Talking green energy, business and Covid with the envoy of Norway, one of India's big investors
The Indian Oil Corporation recently set up India's first Green Hydrogen Plant with the help of a Norwegian company. The country's envoy Hans Jacob Frydenlund speaks to Pushkar Banakar about future plans between India and Norway in the Green sector and other issues.
How have Norway-India relations been affected by the coronavirus pandemic? Are there any lessons that the pandemic has taught?
Despite the pandemic, our bilateral commitments have continued and continue to strengthen. We have had frequent political contact virtually, and joint projects have continued as far as possible. Particularly in our Ocean Dialogue, we have been able to make substantial progress. As elected members of the UN
Security Council, we have seen new avenues for collaboration open up in the area of peace and security. Although the lesson is not new, the pandemic has indeed reminded us that partnerships are key to tackle global challenges. At the national level, the Norwegian government, business and citizen groups
mobilized to support the Indian emergency efforts to tackle the COVID response during the second wave. Norway and India have had important roles in the global pandemic response, where India has held a key role as vaccine producer. Norway, on the other hand, has contributed as co-chair of the Facilitation Council for the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and major donor to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative. What is new is that we have learnt how to foster these partnerships also in the virtual space. I must say I look forward to more physical interaction, though.
Given that the coronavirus situation is improving in India, are there any plans to resume tourist visas for Indians?
The health authorities in Norway are continuously monitoring and evaluating the situation and considering further opening for travel. At this time, students with permits are allowed to enter Norway through the month of August. In addition, family members who are reuniting with residents in Norway (family immigration permits) and essential workers are allowed to enter. Short-term travel from India is currently only allowed in special situations.
The EFTA trade negotiations have been pending for long now. Are you taking any steps to speed it up?
India and Norway enjoy a strong, longstanding relationship in business. The Norwegian Pension Fund Global is likely one of India’s largest single foreign investors (approx. USD 14 billion in 2020), more than 120 Norwegian companies operate in India and trade between our countries is steadily growing. Still, there is a large untapped potential. For the Norwegian government and our industry players, a free trade agreement with India is an important priority. As Ambassador, I engage in dialogue with relevant actors in India to support efforts aimed at progressing in the free trade negotiations.
Recently, Indian Oil Corporation built India's first green Hydrogen plant with the help of a Norwegian company. Are there plans to build more such plants?
Norway has many years of industrial experience across the entire hydrogen value chain and the Norwegian Government has developed a Hydrogen Strategy with the aim of further developing and scaling new low-emission technologies and solutions. We need to grasp the opportunities available to make a complete green transition and hydrogen has a significant potential for reducing local and global emissions.
Hydrogen will be a key component for India's vision to have 450 GW capacity of renewable energy by 2030, and we are pleased to note that the Indian Government has announced a National Hydrogen Mission to support this green shift. We are therefore happy to see the statement of intent between Norway's Greenstat and Indian Oil for a new Centre for excellence on hydrogen. We will also be taking part in the upcoming International Climate Summit in September which focuses on this area.
Norway has set up a climate investment fund for developing and emerging economies. Any India-specific plan in this regard? If yes, can you provide some details?
First, the Norwegian investment fund for developing countries, Norfund, has recently announced a 100 million USD investment in rooftop solar in India. The new climate investment fund will also be managed by Norfund, and will invest in renewable energy in countries where such investments can replace the use of coal and hence lower greenhouse gas emissions. As such, India will be a natural market to explore. If the world is to succeed in mitigating global warming and fulfilling the Paris Agreement, countries that can, must, contribute to more climate financing. Norway is doing its part and we are very proud of our new climate finance initiative.
Earlier this month, Norway's foreign minister presented the country's new strategy for the promotion of freedom of expression. India, of late, has been criticized over some aspects pertaining to curtailment of this freedom. Have you taken up the issue with the Indian authorities? If not, is there a likelihood that you will take it up in the near future?
Norway is strongly committed towards freedom of expression as a fundamental human right and as a cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. This again we see as essential for fostering inclusive and sustainable development. We hope other countries, including India, will be interested in our approach, as laid out in the strategy.
What are the areas, apart from the ones already existing, that Norway and India can collaborate in? Any new sectors in which collaboration can be seen in the future?
Norway and India are both major ocean states, and we place a huge emphasis on our Ocean Dialogue with India. There is still a lot of potential for advancing further the cooperation with India on sustainable use of the oceans, green shipping and ship recycling, marine pollution, integrated ocean management and ocean research. In the UN Security Council, maritime security is an example of shared concern and potential area of collaboration that we will continue to explore.