Norwegian broadcasting service NRK tonight declared the country's government "finished" after prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik called a vote of confidence which he had no chance of winning, over his objection to the building of several natural gas-fired power stations. During a day-long debate in the Storting (parliament) Mr Bondevik had made it clear he would resign if he lost the vote.
Norway's is now almost certain to be the first government in the world to fall as a result of issues related to global warming. The minority coalition, which has prided itself on a series of "green" policy initiatives during its 28 months in power, bitterly opposed construction of the gas-fired plants.
The government argued that the plants would release far too much carbon dioxide (CO2) and that the scheme should be put on hold until efficient cleansing technology had been developed. But the opposition - an alliance of conservatives and Labour - wanted to build the plants anyway, on the grounds that there was no alternative to meet the demand for electricity.
National newspaper Dagsavisen today reported that the government had set up a "secret" expert group to explore the possibility of electricity rationing if consumption could not be reduced through energy conservation or voluntary reduction.
Norway currently generates almost all its electricity from clean hydropower. But further hydro development is not popular because of its effects on the landscape. Importing electricity generated abroad by coal-fired or nuclear power plants is seen as even more environmentally unsound.
The new government is likely to be headed by Labour, the Storting's largest party. Labour is perceived as far more Europe-friendly than the previous coalition, which included Norway's "Centre" or agrarian party. Many political experts feel the gas issue was in part a ploy by Labour under a new, young and ambitious leader, Jens Stoltenberg, to wrest power from a government that had been shaky from the outset and largely ineffectual.
Not a subscriber?
Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.