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Norway Set to Divest $1 Trillion Wealth Fund From Oil and Gas Exploration Companies

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Norway Set to Divest $1 Trillion Wealth Fund From Oil and Gas Exploration Companies
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By Andy Rowell

The beginning of the end of the age of oil moved a step closer Friday, with Norway's government recommending that its $1 trillion wealth fund should divest from upstream oil and gas producers.


The news that the world's largest wealth fund, known as the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), which is highly influential just by its huge financial size, will divest from companies that explore and produce oil, "has sent shockwaves through the energy sector," according to the Financial Times.

Whilst the move is significant in driving the fossil fuel disinvestment momentum, the Financial Times notes there are caveats: "the world's largest sovereign wealth fund has given a reprieve to the global oil majors" such as Shell and BP and "the fund appears to be allowed to still invest in oil and gas companies if they have activities in renewable energy."

The move is primarily concerned about protecting the Norwegian economy from any future plunge in the oil price rather than climate concerns, although these are mentioned by the government.

In its report, published Friday, it stated that "Climate risk is an important financial risk factor for the GPFG, and may over time have an impact on several of the companies in which the Fund is invested, including those in the energy sector."

Norway's Finance Minister Siv Jensen said: "The objective is to reduce the vulnerability of our common wealth to a permanent oil price decline. Hence, it is more accurate to sell companies which explore and produce oil and gas, rather than selling a broadly diversified energy sector."

But the move will have an impact: The strategy will affect 1.2 percent of its holdings, worth about 66bn Norwegian krone or $7.5 billion and its investments in some 150 oil companies. Although the likes of BP and Shell won't be affected, some American fracking companies will be, such as Chesapeake Energy. The full list is here.

The reaction from some in the environmental community was positive. Bill McKibben from 350 tweeted:

Our own Alex Doukas, Stop Funding Fossils Program director at Oil Change International, remarked:

"This planned move by Norway's government is a clear signal of where the global financial community is headed: directly away from fossil fuels. The companies listed for exclusion are focused exclusively on drilling more oil and gas out of the ground when climate safety requires the exact opposite — a rapid and just managed decline of all fossil fuel production. Ultimately, all oil and gas companies continuing to expand production should be shunned by the global financial community as bad actors and risky investments."

"Today's decision by the oil fund is even more impactful than when they divested from coal in 2015," Mark Campanale, CEO of Carbon Tracker, told CNN "It shows that while the fund was initially built on revenue from oil and gas, the ministry of finance understands that the future belongs to those who transition away from fossil fuels."

Mark Gilbert from Bloomberg wrote in the Washington Post:

"Friday's government decision to partially back the divestment strategy marks a big victory in the battle against climate change ... The decision should resonate throughout the debate about the need to address climate change. Norway's move highlights the risk that energy producing countries will be left with so-called stranded assets — petrochemical reserves that the world no longer needs as countries embrace cleaner energy sources."

Others were slightly more cautious: Simon Evans from Carbon Brief tweeted:

Charlie Kronick, from Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian: "This partial divestment from oil and gas is welcome, but not enough to mitigate Norway's exposure to both global oil and gas prices and the wider financial ramifications of climate change."

Kronick continued: "However, it does send a clear signal that companies betting on the expansion of their oil and gas businesses present an unacceptable risk, not only to the climate but also to investors."

"While BP and Shell are excluded from the current divestment proposal, they must now recognize that if they continue to spend billions chasing new fossil fuels, they are doomed," said Kronick.

The move also comes some 18 months after 220 organizations from 55 countries signed what is known as The Lofoten Declaration, which called for a managed decline of the fossil fuel sector in line with the Paris UN climate goals.

The declaration demanded leadership in this fossil fuel phase-out from the countries that can afford it first, such as Norway. The declaration was named after the Lofoten Islands of Norway, which remains a battleground over oil and gas exploration, despite Friday's announcement.

"We applaud the Norwegian government for this plan but also encourage them to truly go all-in on climate responsibility by divesting from all fossil fuel companies, including integrated major oil and gas companies. We need to stop funding the fossil fuels that are causing the climate crisis, and this move by the Norway Government Pension Fund Global is an important — if limited — step in that direction," said OCI's Doukas.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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