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When Norwegians vote in their general election on monday, opinion polls suggest that a Labor-led coalition will replace the center-right government that has ruled the country for the past eight years. However, it would do no good to resolve the political divisions that came to light during the campaign by settling traditional camps.
The election was apparently disputed over who should form the country’s next government, and it could reasonably be expected that the election would depend on the current government’s handling of the pandemic; good by European standards. Instead, the campaign turned into a climate election when the UN this summer published his latest scientific findings “A red code for humanity”.
This has left a deep rift over the climate between the alleged coalition partners, both left-wing greens, socialists and a hard-left party against more industry-friendly Labor and Center parties standing and right-wing, where the ruling Conservative party is in opposite directions drawn by climate-conscious liberals and populists who embrace the oil industry.
Outsiders can be forgiven if they think Norway’s wealth makes it easier than any other country to navigate the green transition: it leads the world in the adoption of electric vehicles, for example, thanks to huge tax benefits. The political conflicts surrounding climate policy in other countries are actually just as relevant in Norway, if not more so. After all, the great wealth of the country stems from the sale of hydrocarbons.
Fear of phasing out oil and gas production (such as climate change parties) wants to cost in tighter public finances and job losses in regions serving the North Sea reflects some countries’ resistance to abandoning cheap fossil fuel generation.
Meanwhile, the eagerness with which many Norwegians embrace decarbonisation, from the ubiquitous electric vehicles and bicycles to the rush for better railways and less meat, is covered with the same cultural suspicion and redistributive conflicts between rural and urban places, and between peripheries and elites, as we see elsewhere.
These conflicts play out in recognizable ways. As elsewhere in Northern Europe, parties with aggressive ambitions for climate policy can garner about 20 percent of the vote. A large majority still votes for the Labor and Conservative parties, whose need to dominate diverse groups of traditional supporters dampens any impetus to radicalism, or that parties with special interest appeal to voters with other concerns.
But in electoral systems based on proportional representation, such as those in Norway and large parts of Europe, 15 to 20 percent make a big difference whether viable coalitions can be formed. It forces all parties to take climate change policy seriously, whether it is to keep enough voters on the sidelines or to agree on a program for the government. The biggest influence of climate-conscious parties does not lie in how much of the choice spectrum they control, but in how they make the whole spectrum greener. This election shows that Norway is no different.
Thanks to its wealth, industrial experience and a high level of confidence, Norway is well equipped to make a success of carbon emissions. But the lesson of the election campaign that is now coming to an end is that it no less burdens the politics of climate change.
Whoever is declared the winner after the polls close on Monday night will find that policy peace is more difficult than winning the election war – even if you have public finances that other governments can only dream of.