The Oil Fund: How Norway’s Dirty Money Should be Used

Let me tell you how Norway should use it's big pile of dirty oil money.

Norway was traditionally a land of farmers, fishermen, loggers, and miners. Our industry was mostly based on processing these natural resources, and towards the end of the 1960’s Norway’s GDP was comparable to that of Greece.

Today, Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita. We also score consistently well in the World Happiness Report, and in general, Norwegians live a carefree, good life.

There are many reasons this change happened. First and foremost, Norway is located in a relatively quiet and stable part of the world. The population of Northern Europe is for the most part of the same ethnicity. We’re also on the same frequency in terms of political and religious views. The wealth is relatively evenly spread among the population, and our part of the globe is usually spared of the most devastating natural disasters. Without armed conflicts fueled by ethnic violence or religious nonsense, and without the need to rebuild the country every time it’s ruined by a natural disaster, we’ve been able to focus is economic growth.

In 1969, Norway got a major boost on it’s way to the top of the prosperity food chain. The Ekofisk oil field was discovered in the North Sea, and Norway joined an exclusive club of oil producers. The country went from an economy mainly based on processing renewable resources, to one exploiting non-renewable oil and gas resources. I’m not saying Norway wouldn’t have been were we are today without the Ekofisk discovery. Our Scandinavian neighbors are proof of that. Sweden, Denmark, and Finland all have a generally happy population, and a high GDP.

But the black gold sure helped.

The Oil Fund

Depending on oil and gas to fuel the Norwegian economy has a major flaw. Since both are non-renewable, limited resources, the wells will eventually run dry.

This issue was addressed back in 1990, when the Government Pension Fund Global was established. Also known as the Oil Fund, it invests the surplus revenues of the Norwegian petroleum sector. The fund currently has more than $1 trillion in assets, which makes it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. The Oil Fund invests in real estate, fixed income, and equity1.

Every investment follows a surprisingly reasonable set of policies, covering everything from children’s rights to anti-corruption. There’s even a government agency, the Council on Ethics, which oversees the investments. Its sole job is to make sure that the Oil Fund follows the ethics guidelines and policies. But with shares in more than 9,000 companies, there are bound to be some rotten eggs in the basket.

Thankfully, the fourth estate has got us covered. The Norwegian NRK, a state funded broadcasting company, recently discovered that the Oil Fund is financing the construction of 39 brand new coal power plants around the globe. This happens despite the fund’s 2016 decision (PDF, local copy) to exclude companies that use coal as a significant part of their business activities. 52 companies were excluded from the Oil Fund in April 2016 as a direct result of the new guidelines.

Ethics and Guidelines

When NRK asked the government if they had considered excluding companies that built coal-based power plants, the Ministry of Finance released the following statement:

The goal of the Government Pension Fund Global is to achieve the highest possible return at an acceptable risk. The fund is not a means to influence climate policy, foreign policy, or other policies.

– Norwegian Ministry of Finance on the Oil Fund

Which is a metric crapton of bullshit.

The Oil Fund is already “a means to influence climate policy, foreign policy, and other policies” through their exhaustive set of responsible investment guidelines. The Guidelines for observation and exclusion of companies from the Government Pension Fund Global (PDF, local copy), published by the Counsil of Ethics, states the following.

The Fund shall not be invested in companies which themselves or through entities they control […] derive 30 per cent or more of their income from thermal coal […]

This excludes coal-based power plants outright.

Money Talks. Let’s Do Some Talking

The problem with guidelines, however, is that they are just that; guidelines. If they are not followed, there are few consequences. But there as to be consequences. How the Oil Fund is to invest have to be put into law, and Norway should be using the money as leverage to fix everything that’s wrong in the world.

Money talks, there is no denying that. With the amount of money that’s currently in the Oil Fund, Norway can do a lot of talking. The fund has made much of its money from pumping oil and gas out of the ground, and Norway’s wealth is a direct result of the increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The only right thing to do now is to pull the Oil Fund out of coal, oil, gas, weapons, and similarly destructive industries. Alternatively, we can put all the money in these industries to get the majority vote on the company board. Then the problems can be handled from the inside.

Sometimes it can be a bit hard to figure out what’s the right thing to do. In this case, it’s a damn no-brainer. Stop using the Oil Fund’s money to finance Earth’s destruction. It doesn’t matter how much money we have in the fund, when the world is literally burning down around us.

Just fucking get on with it, already.

  1. Every single investment can be seen on this interactive map↩︎


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