On the 22 of December 2020, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled in the People Vs Arctic Oil court case that allowed the drilling in the Arctic to continue. The verdict was uneven, with four out of 15 judges believed that the oil licenses in the Barents Sea should be invalid for climate reasons, while the rest voted in favour of the Norwegian state. The main question that has been raised from this verdict is whether Arctic oil drilling violates Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution, which states that “Every person has the right to an environment that is conducive to health and to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are maintained. Natural resources shall be managed on the basis of comprehensive long-term considerations which will safeguard this right for future generations as well. The authorities of the state shall take measures for the implementation of these principles.” This Article aimed to ensure that the Norwegian government has a duty to guarantee the Norwegains’ rights to a safe environment.
In 2016, the organizations sued the Norwegian state for the opening of new oil drilling, thus, the court has concluded that permitting the set of oil drilling did not violate both the Norwegian Consitution’s right to a safe environment and the European Convention on Human Right. The judges had claimed that the right to a clean environment did not prohibit the government from continuing to drill in the Barents Sea for oil and that “Norway did not legally carry the responsibility for emissions stemming from oil it has exported.”
Who filed this lawsuit?
The plaintiffs for the case, the activist groups Greenpeace and Nature and Youth Norway, argued that approving oil drilling violates human rights conventions as it would increase carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
One of the main causes of climate change is the burning of oil and fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere, where it traps the sun’s heat and causes global warming.
In 2016, companies were awarded licenses to conduct oil drilling in the South and South-East Barents Sea, an area of about 77 acres on the Norwegian continental shelf where oil and gas fields have recently been built. Parliament accepted opening the area for exploration three years earlier, disregarding arguments from environmentalist that the oil drilling plans were not carefully planned before being approved.
What would happen if the environmental organisations had won this case?
The verdict could have overturned the petroleum policy in Norway, which has benefited from the oil industry while also setting significant climate change goals. Scandinavian countries have experienced severe climate change, as heavy snowmelt is exposing residents to dangerous landslides.
What do people have to say about this incident?
The Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who donated about $29,000 toward the legal cost of the lawsuit, said in a statement the decision was no surprise. “It just proves that the climate and ecological crisis cannot be solved within today’s systems,” Ms Thunberg said. “There are no tools, no laws nor regulations that keep us from destroying the living conditions for life on this planet as we know it. In order to solve this crisis we need a whole new way of thinking.”
“We are outraged with this judgment, which leaves youth and future generations without Constitutional protection. The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future. The youth in Norway fighting against Arctic oil drilling is used to being disappointed, and we will continue our fight. In the streets, in voting booths and in the courts if needed,” said Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway.
Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway calls the judgment absurd. “It is absurd that our right to a livable environment cannot be used to stop Norway’s most harmful activities for our climate and environment. We share in the outrage the youth of Norway will feel faced with this decision.”
UN Human Development
Recently, Norway lost its place on the UN Human Development ranking because of its large emission of greenhouse gases from the oil industry that is seen to be putting people’s health at risk.