The Oil Palm

Norway to Developing Countries: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

The Financial Times reports that Norway is moving ever closer to allowing toxic waste to be dumped in pristine wildlife-supporting fjords, as well as opening up new areas of Norway’s natural habitats for fossil fuel development.

Obviously this is about as hypocritical as it gets, even Norwegian environmentalists are calling it so.

This news may be surprising to some: the international media’s focus on Norway is normally that of an environmental hero: hectoring and lecturing developing countries on how they must “do better”, sponsoring awards and in particular how developing countries must forgo development, jobs and prosperity, in order to better protect the environment.

Norway’ Government, however, does not stop at mere words. Norway’s vast sovereign wealth fund – the largest in the world – is wielded as a bullying weapon, divesting from companies or industries that Norway’s Government has deemed unsuitable – the same Government that now plans to dump toxic waste into the sea, and drill for oil under pristine Arctic habitats. We’ll come back to why the Government finds these choices necessary, below.

What does this have to do with palm oil? Everything.

The Norwegian Government, and their sovereign wealth fund, have declared a war against palm oil.  They have financed a campaign in Indonesia to prevent jobs and industries from being created, they have divested from Malaysian Palm Oil companies due to “unacceptable risk of…severe environmental damage” and so on.  These actions and claims now ring hollow.

To make matters worse, unlike Norway’s source of wealth, palm oil is a renewable resource for both food and energy. It is the world’s most efficient vegetable oil, providing essential nutrients to billions around the world, including in the poorest countries. Palm oil has also been recognized by scientific institutions around the world as the most land-efficient and productive oilseed crop – meaning it saves land, as less is used in producing oils. These human and environmental benefits are real, and it illustrates the folly of Norway’s policy against palm oil.

Let’s take Malaysia’s environmental record: in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, the Malaysian Government promised to protect a minimum of 50 per cent of land as forest area. That commitment is still in place. The most recent United Nations FAO report on Global Forests showed that Malaysia’s current forest protection regime – safeguarding forest area of over 67 per cent – is an example to the world.

So why does the Norwegian Government tell developing countries like Malaysia do as I say and not as I do?  Here’s a possible reason: the Krone has lost significant value and the Norwegian oil industry is “in a crisis,” according to Bente Nyland, director general of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.  This sums it up.  The Norwegian economy is a fossil fuel economy, and it is dying. It’s no wonder the oil industry is looking for new fields to pump dry, and for new places to dump their toxic waste.

One would think this new reality that is setting in across Norway following the American shale boom would provide a lesson in humility to the Norwegian Government. Unfortunately, it probably won’t.  So in the meantime, a quick lesson in how the world really works. Economic development is a right for Malaysians just as it is for Norwegians, and that includes Malaysia’s conversion of forests for agricultural purposes like palm oil. Now that Norway’s environmental hypocrisy is clear for all to see, things have to change.

The unjustified Norwegian campaign against palm oil needs to end, in the interests of all involved. Malaysian small palm oil farmers would be free to develop their land, as is their right, without fear of Norwegian bullying – and the Norwegians themselves will have more time to focus on their own country’s environmental problems, rather than interfering abroad. It’s time to end the campaign.