Norway’s New Oil Chief Has a History Denying Climate Science
Norway has handed political control of its most important export to a former justice minister who’s raised doubt about climate science and whose actions last year almost toppled the government.
The appointment of Sylvi Listhaug as petroleum and energy minister, overseeing the oil industry in western Europe’s biggest crude and gas-producing nation, means business as usual for the Conservative-led government’s mostly pro-oil policies. It also highlights the country’s contradictions as one of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel exporters and a would-be leader in the fight against climate change.
In an interview in 2011, Listhaug said that “it’s not proven that human CO2 emissions lead to climate change.” A few minutes after formally taking her new position on Wednesday, she told reporters in her office in Oslo that she now believes global warming is “also” caused by man.
Listhaug vowed to develop the oil & gas industry further and said climate activists, including striking school children, are giving it too little credit for its contributions to fighting climate change, such as developing greener technology and replacing more-polluting coal in Europe.
“Symbolic policies won’t save the world,” she said.
The 41-year-old, who until now was minister for the elderly and public health, replaced Kjell-Borge Freiberg, who took the position in mid-2018.
Listhaug, who as minister is set to oversee the entire energy industry in Norway, including the state’s 67% stake in Equinor ASA and the country’s hydro and wind power sectors, has also voiced distaste for onshore wind turbines, which are also meeting increased opposition locally in Norway.
“We shouldn’t have wind turbines in the entire country,” she said on Wednesday. “We need to preserve the beautiful landscapes that we have.”
Some of the issues Listhaug will handle include a decision on whether to build a new power interconnector to the U.K. and how far north in the Arctic oil companies should be allowed to drill.
Listhaug was forced to resign as justice minister in March 2018 as a no-confidence vote in parliament threatened to overthrow the government. She had sparked a tense standoff when she said in a Facebook post that the opposition Labor Party -- the victim of a terrorist attack in 2011 -- cared more about the rights of terrorists than about national security.
Listhaug again joined the government in May as public health minister and was also made first deputy leader of the party. She has a power base within the anti-immigration wing of the party, which is led by Finance Minister Siv Jensen.
Listhaug has in the past called political correctness on immigration a “tyranny of good” and has posted a picture on Facebook of an immigrant being expelled from Norway, encouraging followers to “like and share!”
Listhaug’s divisive character was one of the reasons the Christian Democrats, a small party that’s supported the government in parliament, delayed joining Solberg’s coalition until this year. Under its former leader Knut Arild Hareide, the centrist party tipped the scales ahead of the no-confidence vote in 2018, forcing Listhaug’s resignation. Hareide then lost a power struggle over the party’s future strategy, ending with the Christian Democrats joining the government and paving the way for Listhaug’s return.
The coalition also includes the Liberal Party, making energy and climate policies some of the most divisive issues within the government, with especially Progress pitted against the two smallest allies.
Terje Soviknes, a former petroleum minister and now second deputy leader of Progress, replaced Listhaug as public health minister, the government said in a statement.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.