Arne O. Holm says In Germany, You are Arrested. In Norway, You are Rewarded. “Here’s the deal!”

Oljebransjen ser lyst på framtiden i Barentshavet, og har tro på at oljeprisene vil stige. De mener aktivitet en og interessen i nord er stor og at ringvirkningene i landsdelen vil bli formidable på sikt.
Pictured here, an oil rig from Lundin in the Neiden area, north of Loppahøgda in the Barents Sea. (Archive photo: Lundin)

Commentary: German police raided Germany’s largest bank just the other day, based on suspicion of greenwashing. Here in Norway, the state pays for greenwashing industry.

In its raid against Deutsche Bank, 50 people from the police and financial supervision authorities participated. The giant razzia against the big bank was triggered by claims that some of the bank’s share funds abused terms such as “sustainable” in their presentation.

I am not familiar enough with German legislation to have any opinion about how the matter will end. However, what is interesting is that the German police and legislation strike down hard on misleading use of the term ‘sustainable’.

Perhaps the worst example

Transferred into a Norwegian context, a country in which everyone from banks to petrol stations claim to be sustainable, the police would be busy. Here, however, the authorities go the other way around and spend taxpayers’ money on stimulating greenwashing.

The latest – and perhaps worst – example is called Wisting. It is an oilfield in the Barents Sea, located 310 kilometers north of the Norwegian coastline, operated by Equinor, a state-owned oil company.

Developing an oil field so far off shore was unrealistic for a long time, even for Equinor. There were a series of arguments against extracting oil in such a vulnerable area far out at sea. When the project was shelved, that was nevertheless because producing oil from that field never would be profitable.

That is what financial politicians have taxpayers for

Though that was before the LO (the Norwegian labor union), NHO (the Norwegian Confederation of Business and Enterprise) and the oil companies threw themselves at the MP’s. The pandemic had caused widespread insecurity that according to the lobbyists demanded new, extreme tax incentives in order to continue investing in the exploitation of oil.

Lobbyism triumphant

Earlier this week, former Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg characterized the pressure she then had become subject to in this way:

“There was intense lobbying towards all members of parliament from major oil companies.”

Their lobbying was not only intense, it was also successful. So successful that even the doomed Wisting field suddenly appeared profitable.

So successful that Erna Solberg later has stated that the tax incentives for the oil industry became way too good. They were even unfortunate.

That is a kind of hindsight that the former prime minister perhaps could do something about. But she does not want to. What is done is done.

Some – and this is a giant paradox – realized even as the tax incentives were approved that the parliament majority had been mislead by the alliance from LO/NHO/parts of the oil industry.

This ‘some’ includes a.o the CEO of Aker BP, who claimed that the scheme was too expensive.

The political majority disagreed. The industry was to be oiled with tax incentives whether it was necessary or not.

After all, that is what financial politicians have taxpayers for.

They want to save the globe?

Well, Wisting was all of a sudden profitable, yet a few tricky environmental arguments remained. The hardest one, perhaps, was the claim that the climate cannot take any more oil-related emissions.

And Norwegian politicians want to save the globe too, don’t they?

Greenwashing is part of the political toolbox

“Here’s the deal”, as the saying goes when a shop wants to sell you something you had no idea you were in need of:

First a state-based tax incentive, and then; green, renewable energy from the mainland, also referred to as electrification of the oil platforms.

Some, and they are of course completely right, claim that this has a minimal effect on the climate footprint. Norway looks better, but it does not matter for the globe as a whole.

Emptying Finnmark

Perhaps even the contrary, because the green energy that is to be used to producing oil and gas far out at sea instead could have been used to develop new, green industry in Finnmark and Northern Norway. The projects are lined up, but will soon end up hitting their heads against the wall as the oil companies run off with their energy. Politically decided greenwashing of oil and gas consumes the green energy surplus.

Equinor has drawn the golden ticket, but is not really to be blamed. The political majority alone must carry the responsibility for what has all the hallmarks of a political scandal.

True, the Equinor impact assessment has been reproached by a.o. the Norwegian Environmental Authority. Its Director Ellen Hambro argues that the Authority never before has issued such a critical response as the one it sent to the oil company.

No wonder. If the company is to make it before the tax incentive deadline, conducting an acceptable impact assessment is hardly possible.

When the police raided Deutsche Bank because of suspicions that the share funds offered by the bank were not as sustainable as their names might indicate, the Director was fired without notice and with immediate effect.

In Norway, we do quite the opposite.

We reward greenwashing. And if anyone were to ask critical questions, the political majority, along with parts of LO and NHO, just push harder to their defense.

Greenwashing is not only legal in Norway. It is a blessed part of the government’s political toolbox.

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This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.