Will Norways sovereign wealth fund divest its oil holdings? Decision today

Norway sovereign wealth fund

Norway will announce on Friday whether its sovereign wealth fund, which is the world's biggest and has been fuelled by petrodollars, will divest its oil and gas holdings in a decision keenly awaited by climate activists. The group claims more than 1,000 organizations, companies and nonprofits pledged to divest from fossil fuels, collectively worth more than $8 trillion.

The government of Norway, the biggest oil and gas producer in western Europe, said the divestment was specifically targetting exploration and production companies, "rather than selling a broadly diversified energy sector".

In fact, the proposed divestment is limited to only include companies exclusively involved in oil and gas exploration, not integrated majors like BP, Exxon and Equinor, Norway's state-owned oil giant.

The proposal was first revealed two years ago when Norges Bank, the country's central bank which manages the fund, advised the Government to exclude the oil and gas sector from the benchmark index for the fund. In Norway, the biggest hydrocarbon producer in western Europe, oil and gas represent nearly half of exports and 20 per cent of the state's revenues. The Norwegian government, which gets 20 percent of its revenue from the petroleum sector, said Friday it wants to reduce its vulnerability to a permanent decline in the price of oil.

"Exploration and production companies will be phased out from the fund gradually over time", the government proposal said, without giving a timeline for the divestment. The country's sovereign wealth fund was built up using wealth from Norway's hydrocarbon production, and as of previous year had around $37bn invested in oil and gas stocks. Norway "could be a role model and show that it is entirely possible to have a fund that both makes money, with moderate risks, and stays out of oil and natural gas", said Martin Norman of Greenpeace's Norwegian branch.

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"We were quite surprised to see this and we certainly don't agree with their assertion", said Jon Stringham, manager of fiscal and economic policy for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

According to the Norwegian government, the motion aims to diversify national wealth from oil and is not due to speculation over future oil prices.

The review suggests the fund could become more proactive in engaging with those oil and gas giants that are pivoting investments towards renewables and other low-carbon activities.

The government's proposal is expected to sail through parliament. While the move has been celebrated as a big win by environmentalists, its motivations have more to do with economics than climate change. "It is a growth the fund should be able to take part in", Jensen said. In total, the shift in strategy will affect about 1.2% of the fund's holdings.

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