Norway's opposition wants $800 bln wealth fund banned from coal

OSLO Tue Nov 5, 2013 5:48am EST

OSLO Nov 5 (Reuters) - Norway's opposition Labour Party has proposed banning the country's $800 billion wealth fund from investing in coal producers, a motion that may gain traction as several outside backers of the minority government expressed support.

"We believe that humans are responsible for climate change so we must also see what we can do to reduce emissions," Labour Party finance spokesman Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a statement.

The fund, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, is a major shareholder in some of the biggest coal miners on the planet, including global giants BHP Billiton , Vale and Anglo American, as well as China's top producer, China Shenhua .

The fund, also known as the oil fund, cannot invest in companies that produce nuclear weapons, landmines, cluster bombs, tobacco or firms involved in severe environmental damage, gross corruption, or systematic human rights violation.

The finance ministry on several occasions instructed the fund to divest from specific companies. Among miners, these include Rio Tinto because of alleged environmental damage and Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan for alleged ethical violation.

"This is something we have been working on quite independently of the Labour Party," Terje Breivik, deputy leader of the Liberal Party, said. "We believe it is possible to go further and consideration should be given to divest all investments related to fossil fuels."

The Christian Democrats also said they sympathised with the motion.

"I think there's a good chance this motion could pass," Christian Democrat parliamentarian and finance committee chair Hans Olav Syversen said.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg rules in a minority and relies on the Liberals and Christian Democrats for support, so her government lacks enough votes to block a motion supported by all other parties.

However, no action is imminent as Labour said it would bring its proposal to the table in the spring, during regular review of the fund.

Norwegian public broadcaster NRK estimates that the oil fund holds close to $10 billion of assets in coal miners.

An exclusion would put the government in a difficult position as it owns a coal mine and coal-fired power station in Norway's Arctic Svalbard islands, and the fund itself was built from surplus revenues on oil and gas production.

The finance ministry could not immediately comment. It will present a report on ethical investment by the fund on Nov. 11.

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