New Delhi: Norway’s minister for environment and international relations, Erik Solheim was in New Delhi last week to attend the annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, a confluence of policymakers and environmentalists. In an interview, Solheim spoke about his country’s push for clean energy and how it hopes to engage India on climate change negotiations. He also dwelt on the crisis in Sri Lanka, where he was involved in brokering peace between the government and the Tamil rebels. Edited excerpts:
On the one hand, you (Norway) were among the first countries to impose a carbon tax on citizens. On the other, you are one of the biggest exporters of oil and gas to the world. How do you handle this image?
Well, obviously this is a clear real-life paradox... The first step we have taken to resolve this is to make sure our oil and gas sector is as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. Then we are the only nation in the world to give away 1% of our GDP (gross domestic product) as foreign aid and spend substantially on the protection of rainforests.
Constant dialogue: Norway’s minister for environment and international relations Erik Solheim. Bjørn H Stuedal
You are very active in promoting carbon capture and storage projects—in which you use a clutch of technologies to separate the carbon dioxide from the coal and store it underground. Do you think that’s going to be the most effective approach to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere?
There’s certainly no one way to solve the problem of greenhouse gases and global warming. If there had been only one way, it would have been very easy. We have to work on various parts at the same time—solar, wind, carbon capture and storage. However, the potential from carbon capture is huge, it may solve 20-30% of the problem, and that’s why we have big investments in that sector.
And how do you plan to get this message across to India?
We are in constant dialogue with India. However, the onus of the proof is on us. We must prove that this (carbon capture and storage) can be done at an acceptable cost. The European Union, Australia and the United States are also investing heavily in this. Everybody has to show that it is safe. We in Norway believe it’s safe, (and) we have been doing it for 10 years where we have successfully stored carbon dioxide in the same formations from where we brought out the oil and gas and we see no reason why it should not be safe. But all legitimate questions coming out of this must be addressed and cannot be dismissed.
As you are aware, the European Commission has recently come up with a proposal for the climate change negotiations at Copenhagen in Denmark later this year. There’s a clear hardening of stance towards India, especially when they say India and China must be considered separate from other poorer developing countries and look at taking on emission cuts. What’s Norway’s take on this?
India is not Africa. If India doesn’t want to become like Africa, how can it see itself as Africa when it comes to climate emissions?
So you are saying that India should take the lead in imposing a cap on emissions?
India should definitely take the lead (among developing countries; most developed countries in Europe have in place caps on carbons emissions).
India is one of the big nations and going to be most affected by climate change, and in our perspective, much more vulnerable than China, Europe and the United States. Norway is among the nations that will be least affected.
So does this mean that in future negotiations, you will be putting more pressure on India to move away from its current stance (that is, not take mandatory emission targets)?
No... I mean, it’s dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue. How can we put pressure on India? We are in a different world from the past where the Americans and the Russians made decisions and the entire world had to follow.
Do you hope to see Norway replace its exports of oil and gas with clean technology?
Of course, gas is more environmentally friendly than oil. We see huge potential in off-shore wind (projects). But surprisingly, some of our companies are very much at the forefront of solar technology, considering that we don’t have a warm climate. In fact, we are opening a solar-powered village in Uttar Pradesh.
You were among the prominent faces in Sri Lanka as a peace negotiator during the conflict. Now that war seems to be ending, what are your thoughts on this?
Very clearly, this is not the time to go over the mistakes of the past, but a huge opportunity to end the conflict in a peaceful manner was lost (in 2006) and clearly the Tamil Tigers’ existence as a conventional army has come to an end. But the need of the hour is to stop the enormous human casualty.
Do you plan to get involved again?
Yes, I am speaking to them (the Sri Lankan government) every day. In fact just before I came here (for the interview) I spoke to Rajapakse’s (Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan President) secretary.
Finally, do you think Tamil leader V. Prabhakaran is dead?
I don’t think so, I believe he is certainly alive.