Knowledge and leadership lead to sustainability: ex-Norway PM

Taipei, Knowledge-based public policy leads the world to a better place, said former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland on Monday, and she encouraged leaders to listen to evidence and engage in long-term thinking.

“It’s absolutely essential to have a public policy and it has to give incentives and disincentives to the kinds of attitudes and behaviors that lead us in a good or wrong direction,” said the sustainable development advocate in answering a question on achieving sustainability at a forum held at Academia Sinica.

Brundtland cited as an example the popularity of electric cars in Norway, where she served as environment minister in 1974 before becoming the country’s first female prime minister in 1981 and serving two further terms from 1986 to 1989 and 1990 to 1996.

Norway introduced a set of policies that makes it the world leader in electric cars, including exempting electric car buyers from taxes, toll charges, and parking fees, Brundtland said.

“It’s unbelievable to see that there are more Tesla cars in Norway than in any other country, in little Norway. Why? Because of these policies,” she said.

During the two-hour forum attended by about 100 international and local academics, topics discussed included long-term issues confronting Taiwan such as the lack of a carbon tax to address climate change and air pollution.

Brundtland was surprised to learn that Taiwan does not impose a carbon tax when asked about it by Academician Shaw Liu (???).

“You don’t have it? Why not? You should have it. You need it. It is good. Just get on with it. I am sure you need some more taxation to do different public policies,” she said.

Brundtland said the tax would help Taiwan go more quickly from the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions era to a new future of sustainable development.

She gave the example of how she introduced a CO2 tax on the Norwegian continental shelf when she returned to the government in 1990 after the former Conservative Party government decided to impose a CO2 tax only on mainland Norway.

The Conservative Party government didn’t put the tax on the country’s oil and gas industry because it said none of its competitors around the world were taxed, she said.

Brundtland recalled that when she decided to add the tax on the continental shelf, it was not received well by the private sector.

“There was a scream across all the businesses and industries, including even the state-owned company also protesting. I just told them to keep quiet and keep their voices down. This has been decided.”

That system led the Norwegian oil and gas industry to be the world leader on low emissions, the development of hybrid energy and security, Brundtland said.

On the air quality issue, Chan Chang-chuan (???), dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health, said that at least 6,000 deaths a year in Taiwan from such diseases as stroke are attributable to air pollution.

But President Tsai Ing-wen (???) listened to only one explanation that one-third of Taiwan’s pollution consists of Chinese pollutants brought to Taiwan by northeasterly winds and did not look at the research conducted on the ground, Chan said.

“(The government) has only political answers to the problem of air pollution,” he said. “But what the government needs is scientific answers on emissions broken down by sectoral sources so that it can make sector-specific emission reduction plans.”

Asked how a political leader should deal with the issue, Brundtland said that if political leaders want to be proud in the future of what they have done when in office, they have to listen to knowledge-based evidence and base their conviction on that.

When they make the right decision, they have to press ahead with it regardless of normal opposition and voices which come with pressure from vested interests, Brundtland said. “You know what is right and that’s what you tell the people, nothing else.”

“Political leaders have to be thinking long term and they have to be explaining to people long term,” Brundtland said. “And they have to take the consequences if the people are stupid enough not to reelect them.”

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel