Lawsuit to halt oil exploration begins

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Several former government ministers are among the plaintiffs when  a major lawsuit against the state gets underway in Oslo on Tuesday. The historic court case seeks to halt more oil exploration, and has been filed by environmental organizations Greenpeace and Nature and Youth, with the Grandparents Climate Campaign as intervenor.

Greenpeace was also active last summer in protesting oil drilling the Barents Sea. They were delighted when the oil companies involved failed to find significant oil and gas under the sea bed. PHOTO: Greenpeace

Among the grandparents objecting to more offshore oil drilling and production in Norwegian waters are former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch of the Conservative Party, one of Willoch’s ministers for the environment, Rakel Surlien, and Werner Christie, health minister during Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland’s third Labour government in the 1990s. Thorbjørn Berntsen, who served as environment minister in Labour governments headed by both Brundtland and former Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland, has also signalled his intention to join the Grandparents Climate Campaign and therefore the lawsuit.

Several didn’t want to comment directly on the unusual lawsuit against the Norwegian government, but Christie told newspaper Dagsavisen that he supported the legal action to halt oil drilling “because it forces a debate on oil policies and human rights regarding security against unhealthy conditions and environmental destruction.”

‘Drilling defies Paris Agreement’
The bipartisan support for a lawsuit against the government reinforces how extraordinary the lawsuit is. It claims that Norway’s ongoing expansion into new offshore areas violates the Norwegian constitution, which ensures Norwegians the right to a sustainable climate and obliges the state to secure that right.

When Norway’s current conservative government ignored calls to drop its 23rd licensing round, which included many blocs in Arctic areas, Greenpeace and the organization Nature and Youth sued in cooperation with several other organizations and individuals. They argue that the decision to grant new oil exploration licenses violates the UN’s Paris Agreement, which Norway has signed, to stop climate change. They also argue that the new licenses violate Norwegians’ rights to a safe and healthy environment for current and future generations, as granted by the Norwegian Constitution. They won a court date earlier this year.

Rallying support
The plaintiffs have been drumming up publicity for the suit, after it won a green light to move forward, with full-page ads in local newspapers over the weekend and a series of special events. Another group called Concerned Artists Norway held special art showings and performances on Saturday in connection with the suit while a concert to drum up support for the suit was scheduled for Sunday. More events were held Monday, including a press conference and performances, before the lawsuit was to get underway Tuesday morning.

It’s due to run throughThursday November 21, with the plaintiffs also hosting programs in the evenings following the days in court. The plaintiffs have especially targeted oil drilling licenses granted to Statoil, Chevron, Luoil and 10 other oil companies because the drilling sites are located in what they call “highly sensitive areas of the Arctic, new areas with no existing petroleum infrastructure.”

They argue that granting the licenses runs afoul of Norway’s commitment to meet the emission goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperatures from rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius

Even a former justice of the Norwegian Supreme Court, Kjetil Lund, is meeting in court on behalf of the plaintiffs. The so-called “People vs Arctic Oil” lawuit also includes a long list of Norwegian celebrities, authors, actors and musicians.

“Nothing threatens global health more than a breakdown of the climate,” Christie told Dagsavisne. “That will lead to hunger, migration and conflict with accompanying poverty and terrible living conditions for millions.” While government politicians argue that Norway needs its oil and gas industry to keep its economy strong, Christie argues that halting oil drilling and further expansion “will by no means weaken our quality of life.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund