Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo
BLUE ASSETS, GREEN SPACES
Trine Jøranli Eskedal views climate change mitigation as a dire need
Take one look at its capital Oslo, and the immense value Norway places on green spaces as well as oceans becomes evident. Ninth century Viking ships take pride of place in museums and narrate a history that has long engaged with the ocean, complementing the glaciers and deep coastal fjords that form this Scandinavian country’s picturesque canvas.
And Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s mission has been to safeguard these ‘blue assets,’ which are almost seven times larger than Norway’s land territory. For Norwegian ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal, the posting to Sri Lanka proved to be an initial voyage to South Asia with managing oceans sustainably being an imperative.
“Future prosperity and stability depend on our ability to manage oceans in a sustainable way. We are working with the international community to fully assume responsibilities for the 2030 Agenda. Global education is another top priority as is gender equality whereby we affirm a commitment to tap the enormous potential women and girls represent,” she explains.
Eskedal notes: “Equal access to resources and opportunities for education, healthcare, work life and political representation should be priorities for all societies. Progress cannot be achieved if half the population is left out. Women’s participation has been a pillar of our economic growth, which was only five percent lower than that of men in 2017. Increased participation of women translates directly into economic growth, welfare and sustainability.”
The diplomat adds that while most people assume Norway’s wealth is due to its oil and gas industry, “the value of women’s participation in the labour force is an equally important factor. In contrast to natural resources, it is a perpetual source of income.” The progressive leadership of the constitutional monarchy too is attributed for this unparalleled growth. Led by King Harald V, the royal family supports inclusiveness, gender equality, same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.
Norway has its share of challenges, be it climate change in the Arctic, political polarisation with nationalism on the rise or a more turbulent and unpredictable world, which is of great concern.
“We must address fundamental challenges in modern society that affect the way we live and work in the future. In Norway, we have an ageing population, increased wealth inequality and a growing feeling of non-inclusiveness. The impact of the digital revolution must also be tackled,” Eskedal asserts.
Terrorism is another fundamental challenge – for example, the mosque shooting in August last year and the 2011 attack on Utøya.
The ambassador elaborates: “A rise in radical extremism stems from hatred, which can only be curbed by including youth who feel isolated. Systematic followup, and open discussion to explore thoughts and values while creating an inclusive society for our population’s 14 percent immigrants – whether they’re European, Asian or African – are very important.”
Eskedal has been in Sri Lanka since August and says she loves everything about the country: “Sri Lanka is a resourceful nation that is both rich in natural and human resources. The challenge is to make use of this abundance of resources effectively, as well as talent, for the development and prosperity of this beautiful country.”
Norway’s priorities with Sri Lanka are oceans, green energy, fisheries, climate change, ICT development, women’s empowerment and governance.
“For example, we are keen on bringing together Norwegian tech companies to share knowledge, and invest in Sri Lankan businesses and the ICT industry in particular. There is also immense potential for further collaboration in the maritime industry and ocean technology,” Eskedal notes.
She sees great potential in the ICT industry for both Norway and Sri Lanka, noting that “an ongoing partnership between the Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) and Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs looks to foster collaboration in the ICT industry.”
“The areas for collaboration include encouraging entrepreneurship and knowledge exchange, increasing visibility for AI awareness and teaching technology to build future tech leaders,” she adds.
In a career spanning two decades at the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and having built a repertoire of six languages, Eskedal calls herself a ‘technology optimist.’ She elaborates: “I strongly believe that tech plays a major role in moving society forward. Sri Lanka has fast developing ICT infrastructure and a large number of skilled professionals who can have a positive impact on making lives easier and smarter, and businesses larger and better.”
The Norwegian ambassador believes that climate change is the main challenge that the world has to deal with, coupled with inequality in income distribution and the digital revolution. And she avers that “all of these lead to vast disparities between people.”
Her enthusiasm and eternal optimism spill over as she speaks of young Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg: “More youth are mobilised and asking for change. Greta rallied the young and old worldwide to her climate strike movement. It is understandable that she blames older generations for failing the world’s youth and asks global leaders to pay heed to climate science.”
Stemming from this challenge, Eskedal hopes the world will make more progress in using alternative energy sources, use less plastic, become more conscious of the way food and clothes are produced, consume sustainable organic food, compost waste and move away from fast fashion to reusing clothes.