Norway’s huge oil fund makes major shift to renewable energy

wind turbine thinkstock Credit: Thinkstock

In a major move to spread the use of green energy, Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund has announced that it will begin investing in unlisted renewable energy infrastructure projects like wind farms and solar parks – an effort that will boost their visibility and enhance their financial bottom line.

The move shows that countries that have built their wealth on the back of fossil fuels can diversify their investments and seek profits in the clean energy needed to battle climate change. Analysts said Norway’s announcement is likely to fuel faster growth in green energy worldwide.

For the past ten years, Bellona has lobbied the Government Pension Fund Global – the world’s largest such fund – to open its vast holdings to clean energy projects listed outside standard stock exchanges. Such projects make up more than two-thirds of the whole renewable infrastructure market and are worth trillions of dollars.

“We are happy today, and hope that this is starting point we need,” says Frederic Hauge, Bellona’s president. “Norway now has a historic opportunity to become the world’s green financial center, a vision we at Bellona launched in 2009. We can now become that center the fund plays its cards correctly.”

The pension fund – which owns, on average, one percent of every stock listed on earth – had previously taken a guarded position in renewables, maintaining a tranche of $7 billion in climate investments. With Friday’s announcement, the fund said it will now double those investments to as much as $14 billion.

Norway’s conservative ruling party was at pains to say the move was based on financial rather than environmental incentives.

“Allowing for unlisted renewable energy infrastructure is not a climate policy measure, but is a part of the investment strategy for the fund,” writes Financial Minister Siv Jensen in a Friday release.

But Hauge said Norway’s wealth fund managers were just seeing the green writing on the wall.

“We are seeing that climate realities are becoming more of a guide for political decisions, and this will have a major impact on market developments,” Hauge says.

Last month, the Government Pension Fund Global announced it would dump $8 billion in stocks it holds in 134 companies that explore for oil and gas, while sparing companies like BP and Shell, which maintain renewable energy projects.

In 2015, the fund began shedding the stocks it holds in large coal companies. On Friday, along with its announcement on renewables, the fund said it would scale its coal stocks back even further by setting lower limits on the amount of coal a company is allowed to hold in reserve.

Hauge says he hopes the fund will go even further by investing in other projects that are crucial to a clean international infrastructure, such as emissions free transport and carbon capture and storage.

Worldwide, investment firms are taking notice of the green shift, and their holdings are increasingly influenced by fears of global warming and financial losses if climate action cuts the value of coal, oil and gas investments. According to the Guardian newspaper, more than 1000 institutional investors have now committed to divesting in fossil fuels.