Gas protests greet new Norwegian government

Labour takes over after Bondevik resignation; Siri Bjerke becomes environment minister

Appointment of a new Norwegian government on Friday was marked by continuing protests over plans to build new gas-fired power stations. The previous centrist administration resigned on 9 March after failing to block the plans, becoming the first ever western government to fall over a climate change related policy (ENDS Daily 9 March).

Ministers in the new minority Labour government emerged from a ceremonial meeting with King Harald to be greeted by a large crowd of demonstrators, who oppose the power stations on the grounds that they would emit too much carbon dioxide.

The new environment minister is Siri Bjerke, a career politician who most recently worked in the foreign ministry, is likely to be far more high profile than her unpopular predecessor, Guro Fjellanger. Her appointment reflects pressure on the new prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, to establish environmental credibility to offset some of the hostility generated by gas power issue.

Media opinion is unanimous that Ms Bjerke has been handed the toughest job in Norwegian politics. There is also, however, a growing suspicion that Labour's commitment to gas power was little more than a ploy to enable the party to seize office, and that the plants will never be built.

Environmental NGOs are unlikely to soften their stance over the issue, however. At least one is already drafting a series of lawsuits and several are threatening to expand the current flurry of protests against the new government into a nation-wide campaign of civil disorder reminiscent of the divisive Alta dam controversy during the early 1980s.

* In a related development, Statistics Norway on Friday reported that Norwegian greenhouse gas emissions rose between 1998 to 1999, taking the total to 9% above 1990 levels. Under the international Kyoto protocol, Norway is committed to restraining its emissions to no more than 1% above 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

Follow Up:
Norwegian environment ministry, tel: +47 22 24 57 00; Statistics Norway, tel: +47 22 86 45 00.

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