Move to ban coal shares in Norway's $815 bln fund gains support
* Opposition Labour party wants fund to exit coal stocks
* Proposal has backing of a majority of parties
* Fund is major investor in BHP Billiton, Anglo American
By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO, Jan 27 (Reuters) - An opposition proposal to prohibit Norway's $815 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, from investing in coal companies has won the support of two minority parties whose backing the government needs.
The fund, commonly known as the oil fund, is the sixth-largest investor in BHP Billiton and the ninth-largest in Anglo American, among other companies that produce coal.
The proposal by the opposition Labour Party calls on "the government to conduct a thorough investigation with a view to remove the fund's investments into coal companies".
"The way I read the motion put forward by Labour, we agree on quite a lot," Hans Olav Syversen, finance spokesman for the Christian Democrats, told Reuters. "Their proposal goes in the same direction as our view."
The Liberals, a small party that sees the fight against climate change as central, also said it sympathised with the motion.
"We want to have an assessment of the financial risk and the risk posed to climate change policy by the fund being so heavily exposed to fossil fuel firms," Terje Breivik, the Liberals' finance spokesman, told Reuters.
On Tuesday, the Norwegian parliament's finance committee will conduct a hearing to gather views about Labour's proposal. The chief executive of the oil fund, the governor of the central bank and representatives from several environmental groups will present their views.
The finance committee will then discuss the motion and decide by March 4 whether to put it to a vote in parliament.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the centre-right Conservatives rules along with the more radical Progress Party. The coalition needs the support of the Christian Democrats and the Liberals to pass legislation.
WHAT KIND OF COAL FIRM?
Labour finance spokesman Jonas Gahr Stoere did not want to give a precise definition of which coal firms would be affected by the measure, whether they would include coal miners, power generators that use coal and/or firms that transport coal.
"The central bank and the finance ministry must do that assessment," he said. He added, however, that his party was not in favour of getting out of every company that uses coal.
"We should weigh in the significance of (firms developing) clean technology or new technology," he said.
On previous occasions, the finance ministry has instructed the oil fund to pull out of specific companies, such as for example Rio Tinto because of alleged environmental damage and Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan for alleged ethical violation.
The fund also 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 could not immediately be reached for comment.
"Our proposal is an expression of the seriousness of the climate change situation we see globally," Labour's Stoere said.