Speech/statement | Date: 06/01/2010
Among the first public buildings we know of from the earliest civilisations are granaries. They were used to provide emergency relief in years when crops failed. We remember the story of Joseph advising Pharaoh to build up a store of grain because the seven good years would be followed by seven years of famine. This is ancient wisdom: we should save when times are good so as to be prepared for hard times.
Over the last year, the world has experienced the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s.
This international crisis has also affected Norway. We have a small, open economy, and half of what we produce is sold abroad. When export markets disappear, people at home are hit. Some of those who used to manufacture car components, smelt aluminium or build ships lost their jobs because people abroad stopped buying these goods.
Losing a job is first and foremost a blow for the person concerned. But unemployment also harms the community. With fewer people producing goods, there is less to go round. During this crisis, we have injected a great deal of extra funds to keep the wheels in motion. We have been able to spend more during these difficult times because we were careful when times were good. In this respect, you could say that we have followed the advice Joseph gave to Pharaoh, albeit in a rather different way. The Egyptians built granaries. We built the Government Pension Fund – Global.
History is full of examples of the disastrous results of forgetting, in times of prosperity, that the wind is bound to change. In the 16th century, the Spanish started to bring home huge amounts of gold from America. This was used to buy luxury goods for the ruling class, to provide tax relief for the aristocracy and to wage wars. Work was looked down on. However, work was valued elsewhere, for example in England, which was busy producing textiles and other goods for export to Spain. Soon the English far surpassed the Spaniards in terms of both living standards and development. When a royal advisor to the Spanish King finally realised that it was unwise to rely on the country’s large gold reserves while having such a low rate of production, and acknowledged that work means wealth, it was too late.
In 1946, the Norwegian Minister of Finance, Erik Brofoss, said the following: “We must free ourselves of the misconception that money forms the basis of high living standards and welfare. Let us always remember that our livelihoods depend on each other’s work, and I underline each other’s work, not others’. This is the answer to one of the questions I am most frequently asked: ‘What will we live on when the oil runs out?’ The answer is that we will live on each other’s work. As we do today. The value of the Norwegian people’s manpower and knowledge is far greater than the value of our oil wealth.
To put it simply, if the unthinkable were to happen and we all simply stopped working and lived on the Pension Fund, it would run out in just over a year. It is work that forms the basis for our welfare system. And this is why we must at all times seek to ensure that as many people as possible have jobs. By building bridges back to working life for those who are disabled but who wish to make a contribution. By enabling the many fit and active elderly people combine work and retirement; by helping those new to this country to learn Norwegian, so that it is easier for them to find a job. And not least by finding a way of reducing sickness absence. No employee should worry about becoming ill. Paid sick leave is a right that we have fought for, and a right that we will protect. But we must do what we can to ensure that as few as possible need to rely on such arrangements – first and foremost out of consideration for those who are sick. We will defend the sick pay scheme, but not the high rate of sick leave. We will establish a working environment where there is room for all and where each individual is taken care of. Employers who care about their employees are our most important means of combating sickness absence. We know that our livelihoods will depend on each other’s work in the future, but we don’t yet know much about what this work will be.
In 1958, the Government received a report concluding that there was no possibility of finding oil in the continental shelf off the Norwegian coast.
Ten years later, we saw the start of the oil saga. We were unable to predict the greatest industrial venture in Norwegian history just ten years before it began. When I meet people today who seem certain about what we will be living on tomorrow, I am always sceptical. We did not predict what we are living on today. At the start of the previous century, there were few who saw the economic potential of our waterfalls. But a few years later hydropower transformed the country and created a new industrial Norway.
For a long time, most of us thought that fish farming would only ever be a small sideline for a few eager entrepreneurs along the coast. Today we export more fish from farms than wild fish caught out at sea. For those of us who grew up with the old Norwegian Telecommunications Administration and were used to waiting for many months to have a telephone line installed, it is almost unbelievable to see that the telecommunications industry is one of the most dynamic and successful in Norway today. Statoil, Hydro, Statkraft, Marine Harvest and Telenor are now among our largest companies. None of them could have been envisioned before their time.
There is a great deal we don’t know about the future, but what we do know is that knowledge will be vital.
It was knowledge that enabled us to harness the power of our waterfalls. It was knowledge that made it possible to extract oil from the darkest depths of the sea. Nature has given us a great deal. But it is only through knowledge that we have been able to make use of it. It is our skilled workers, experienced engineers, good teachers, competent health workers, creative innovators and bold entrepreneurs – people with ability, courage and imagination – who will lead the way. It is the children who started school in the autumn with great expectations and slightly-too-large school bags who will build this country and bring it into the future. It is the love of learning they start off with that we must nurture and keep alive.
One of our most challenging problems is that too many young people do not complete their schooling. This autumn, I visited Stovner Sixth Form College in Oslo. For many years, it had a high drop-out rate. But now it has addressed this situation. Every pupil is seen. Pupils who don’t turn up are followed up. The school contacts them and their parents, a follow-up team is brought in, and a representative of the school may even turn up at pupils’ homes to fetch them if necessary. This too is all about caring. Just as committed employers can work wonders by caring about every single person who is off sick, Stovner School has achieved impressive results by caring about pupils who are at risk of dropping out of school. It is these young people who are our future. We know that the best thing we can equip them with is knowledge. Knowledge is the ultimate trump card.
It is each other’s work and each other’s knowledge we will live on in the future. This is why the Government will initiate a broad public debate in the new year on these fundamental questions. This is an invitation to work together: to look at the way we work; how we can develop a future-oriented business sector and make it easier for people to set up new businesses; how we can develop the knowledge and technology we need; how we can prevent young people from dropping out of school; and how we can reduce sick leave and exclusion from working life. Together with the most relevant ministers, I will invite people from different groups and communities to discuss these matters in the coming year. We will also invite people to take part in the debate online. What we are dealing with here is this country’s most important resource – people.
It is over 40 years since the far side of the moon was first seen by human eyes. On Christmas Eve 1968, the Apollo 8 expedition was the first manned space mission to orbit the moon. The pictures the crew brought home were completely new. Not just the ones of the moon, but also those showing the Earth as seen from the moon. These pictures of the blue, life-sustaining planet Earth, with the desolate surface of the moon in the foreground and the never-ending universe behind, touched the whole world. They gave us new understanding of the uniqueness of our planet. But also of its vulnerability. So the question is, are we taking proper care of our vulnerable planet? And the answer is no. The globe is warming. The polar ice is melting. Sea levels are rising.
Before Christmas, the world’s leaders gathered in Copenhagen to negotiate a new and binding climate agreement. We failed to reach this goal. But we took an important first step. We agreed on the key target of preventing the global average temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius. We agreed that we must move beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which only covers some industrialised countries. Now, all the major polluting nations are included. We agreed on how we will ensure that climate mitigation actions are implemented as promised. And most importantly, we agreed that the world’s rich countries will help to pay for climate adaptation and mitigation actions in developing countries.
The rich countries have historically been the great polluters, but developing countries will be responsible for the largest proportion of emissions in the future. China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest carbon emitter. We became rich by increasing our emissions. The problem is that if poor countries today develop in the same way, our planet and its climate will be unable to withstand the strain. That is why climate change can only be addressed if rich countries help to pay for emissions cuts in poor countries. And that is why Norway is investing so heavily in efforts to prevent deforestation. If we succeed in halting deforestation, we will achieve a third of the total emissions cuts needed.
In addition, we must develop climate-friendly technology that enables us to combine growth with lower emissions. If we succeed in reducing emissions from power stations and industrial plants through carbon capture, we can really make a global impact. Conservation of forests and carbon capture. This is where Norway will make a difference.
Our history is characterised by commitment and a willingness to take action, and as a result we sometimes play a greater role in the world than our size would suggest. We have been entrusted with a legacy that spans from Nansen’s dedication to helping refugees to Gro Harlem Brundtland’s international leadership in environmental issues. This means that we must continue to take responsibility. This is why we will persevere in fighting poverty. We will also maintain a presence in Afghanistan and Chad, providing troops and civilian personnel to contribute to security and reconstruction. And we will strive every day to address climate change. These are common problems, and we can only solve them through common efforts. And we will do so with the help of each other’s knowledge and each other’s work.
This evening, I send greetings to all of you who are at work, keeping the wheels in motion this New Year’s Day, and to all who are serving Norway abroad. I also send greetings to the Royal Family and thank them for all they have done during the year that has just ended. And to each and every one of you – Happy New Year!