Solheim skips Barents environment meeting

Erik Solheim
Norway's former Minister of Environment Erik Solheim.

Norway’s Minister of Environment Erik Solheim has for the third time in a row decided not to attend the Barents environmental ministers meeting.


- I very much look forward to welcoming you to Umeå, writes Sweden’s Minister of Environment Lena Ek in her letter to Erik Solheim and the other invited to next week’s Ministerial meeting in northern Sweden.

  But the Norwegian Minister will not come. Neither will the State Secretary in his ministry. Erik Solheim has never given priority to the bi-annual Barents Environmental Ministers meetings. He skipped the meeting in Moscow in 2007 where Norway took over the chair of the Barents environmental working group. Solheim also skipped the ministerial meeting when it took place in Tromsø in northern Norway in February 2010, allegedly because he couldn’t get a private plane to bring him to the north.

When Sweden’s Lena Ek gives her opening speech in Umeå next Wednesday, Erik Solheim’s chair will be empty.

- The members of this council must be the front runners to protect the environment. (…) To succeed, we need concerted action at the regional as well as the national level, Lena Ek writes in the letter where she call on the other ministers to come to Umeå.

In addition to Lena Ek, also Finland’s Environmental Minister Ville Niinistö will participate, the Ministry confirms to BarentsObserver.

Environmental groups active in the north are disappointed by Erik Solheim’s low priority to Barents environmental issues.

- This sends a very unfortunate signal now as many people’s eyes are towards the north. The Barents Region is too important to be left for the oil minister alone, says Lars Haltbrekken, head of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature to BarentsObserver.

Lars Haltbrekken says Norway is communicating two agendas in the north; sustainable environment and rush for resources.

- Shall Norway succeed to balance these two agendas, it is important that Erik Solheim participate in the international forums where northern environmental issues are discussed, says Haltbrekken.

Also the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian, Russian environmental group that has been active in the Barents Region for decades are disappointed by Erik Solheim’s decision to skip the Umeå meeting.

- It is disappointing that Erik Solheim do not give priority to this important arena for environmental challenges in the north, says Manager Nils Bøhmer of the Bellona Foundation. Bøhmer says it is especially important that environmental issues are on the agenda in the north now as the pressure to explore oil- and gas is increasing. 

The environmental group Nature and Youth says it is precarious that the Norwegian Minister is not represented.

- This shows that the Norwegian government does not take environmental issues in the Barents region as seriously as they should. We notice that the government is well represented at meetings when petroleum resources is on the agenda, says Stine Østnor in Nature and Youth.

Erik Solheim has not replied to questions from BarentsObserver on why he skips the Barents Environmental Ministers meeting for the third time in a row. Solheim’s political adviser, Audun Garberg, says to BarentsObserver that the delegation from Norway will consist of nine persons, from the Environmental Ministry, Foreign Ministry and environmental administrative units. 

- Erik Solheim met his Nordic colleagues at the Nordic Council of Ministers meeting in Copenhagen on Wednesday. Topics relevant to the north, like black carbon and melting ice in the Arctic were on the agenda. We have also invited to a meeting on Svalbard in March next year, where these kind of issues will be discussed among ministers in the region, says Jon Berg, head of communication in the Ministry of Environment to BarentsObserver.

In October, Norway took over the chair of the Barents Council for the coming two years period. In the list of Norwegian priorities for the Barents cooperation, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre writes that Norway intends to highlight and promote the Barents Region to foster environmentally-friendly industrial development in the region.