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April 26, 2023

A new report by ActionAid Denmark has exposed the truth behind the Norwegian Oil Fund’s commitment to exit coal, revealing the fund still has billions of US dollars invested in the polluting industry, making it Europe’s largest institutional investor in coal.  

During COP26, Norway’s Prime Minister stated the goal of the Oil Fund was to “make it the leading fund in responsible investment and the management of climate risk”. This aim was echoed in the Fund’s 2022 Climate Action Plan and by its CEO, Nicolai Tangen, on multiple occasions. The Fund has also stated the intention to exit coal since 2015, and earlier this month, the fund’s Chief Governance and Compliance Officer was quoted by the media saying, “we have sold out of coal”.  

A new report, Norway’s Coal Secret: The Norwegian Oil Fund’s Continued Investments in the World’s Most Polluting Industry, by the Nordic sustainable finance team at ActionAid Denmark, uncovered that, in actual fact, the Oil Fund’s investments total more than 9,1 billion USD across 71 companies operating in the coal industry. Nearly half of these investments (46%) are spread across 29 companies that are planning to expand their coal operations. The expansion plans of the companies would lead to the emission of 127 million tons of CO2 every year – nearly 2.5 times the size of Norway’s annual domestic emissions.  

Dina Rui, advisor on Nordic sustainable finance at ActionAid Denmark, said:

“Despite ambitions to be a climate leader and telling the public it is out of coal, the Norwegian Oil Fund is financing new climate wrecking coal projects like mines and coal power plants around the world. An especially grim example of this is a highly disputed coal power plant in Vietnam, that could lead to the death of more than 1800 people. The Norwegian parliament must impose on the Oil Fund to divest from the world’s dirtiest industry”. 

The report is co-published by Urgewald, Oil Change International, Greenpeace Norway, and Future In Our Hands.

Heffa Schücking, director of the German environmental group Urgewald, said:

“In 2016, the Oil Fund heard civil society’s call and became a leader on coal divestment, but today it lags behind. Since 2016, over 75 large financial institutions banned coal developers from their portfolios and announced firm dates for a complete phase-out of coal investments. The Oil Fund failed to take such measures and is now Europe’s largest investor in the coal industry. The Fund must become coal-free before our chance to limit global warming to 1.5°C slips away.”

The new analysis highlights problematic exposure in coal-expanding countries like Japan (approximately 25% of exposure) and China (approximately 6% of total coal exposure). These countries have so far been ignoring the UN’s call for a total coal phase-out in OECD countries by 2030 and in the rest of the world by 2040.

For example, The Oil Fund holds investments in Japanese Mitsubishi who co-owns a highly disputed Vietnamese coal expansion project which has been opposed by civil society and investors due to both climate impact and the prospect of severe pollution – several to ten times worse than what is considered best practice in Japan. Further, Vietnam is under scrutiny for the growing criminalization and imprisonment of environmental defenders opposed to coal expansion. One of those in jail is the internationally renowned climate expert, coal phase-out activist, and Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Nguy Ti Khanh.

It is the position of ActionAid Denmark, Urgewald, Oil Change International, Greenpeace Norway, and Future in our hands that if Norway is serious about its climate leadership and about making the Oil Fund a leading financial institution on climate, it must impose on the Oil Fund to lower both its relative and absolute thresholds on a company’s coal capacity. Further, the Oil Fund needs to exclude all companies with coal expansion plans and commit to phasing out its exposure to the entire coal value chain (mining, power & infrastructure).  

Silje Ask Lundberg, Senior Campaigner, Oil Change International, said:

“This report shows how the Oil Fund is continuing its dirty coal investments, despite all of the promises that the Oil Fund is out of coal. If we are to reach the goals set by the Paris Agreement, we need to stop financing new oil, gas, and coal. It is insane that Norway is now Europe’s biggest institutional coal investor. The Parliament needs to clean this up.” 

Results and recommendations have been shared with all political parties in Norway to inform the yearly review of the Oil Fund conducted by the elected officials in Parliament, which has just begun. As a result of the report, the authors of the report expect a strengthening of the coal criteria to be a top priority for the Green Party and very likely also for other parties.


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Dina Rui is based in Norway and leading the Nordic finance teams’ work on The Oil Fund, which is the biggest and most globally influential financial institution in the Nordics.