Guest Post: The NGO known as Norway

March 4, 2014 – This weekend, news broke that Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, a Smaug-sized hoard of $840 billion, has started cutting its investments in mining due to environmental concerns.

Reuters has the story.

“There is environmental damage by definition,” Chief Executive Yngve Slyngstad told the news agency. “It does not mean that we are selling out of the sector. We are concentrating our investments on the companies that we think are continuing this activity in a more sustainable way.”

Very nice. Except for one thing: Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund is in fact Norway’s oil fund, made of earnings from the oil industry, not known for its “environmental sustainability.” So what’s going on here? Is this the nation-state equivalent of spraying pesticides on crops you sell to others, and then appearing environmentally friendly because you serve organic lettuce to your dinner guests? Kind of, except that nobody would be fooled by a bunch of kale, whereas Norway has been extremely successful in becoming “The NGO known as Norway” rather than “Kuwait on the North Sea.”

Say “Norway” to any diplomat, and the association will most likely be recycling, foreign aid, and climate change mitigation. But what’s paying for all those nice things? Oil is. Normally, that paradox doesn’t get too much attention. But when Norway’s Oil Fund announces it’s getting out of certain fossil fuel industries because they’re “bad for the environment,” the inherent contradiction can’t be ignored, making the effect of the statement not quite the intended gilding of Norway’s NGO status. Rather, this announcement makes Norway look hypocritical, like a country telling the world to do as they say, not as they do. Too many of these and that NGO status could come up for review, Norway.

– Julia Grønnevet is a freelance reporter based in Oslo.