It was dubbed as “The People vs Arctic Oil,” and the people lost. Environmental organizations that sued the Norwegian government for opening up its Arctic territory to more oil and gas activity announced they’d been defeated in court on Thursday, but still think their battle to protect sensitive Arctic areas has been worth it.
“We gave the oil lobby a very hard fight,” Truls Gulowsen, leader of Greenpeace Norge, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after a press conference in Oslo Thursday afternoon. He said neither Greenpeace nor its co-plaintiff, the Norwegian group Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) had decided whether to appeal.
In addition to acquitting the state of violating environmental law and Norway’s constitution, which calls for an environment that secures health, the Oslo City Court (Oslo Tingrett) also ordered the two organizations to cover all court costs, including those incurred by the state in defending itself. They amount to around NOK 500,000 (USD 62,000).
“It’s terribly sad that the court didn’t take in the global perspective about climate change, and that the court in addition orders the environmental organizations to pay the state’s costs,” Gulowsen said. “That sends an unfortunate signal to others who could think to take environmental issues to court.”
Gulowsen was satisfied, however, that the court’s verdict can set some limits on how environmentally damaging state measures can be. He claimed that provides new concrete contents for the environmental law under dispute.
It was the first time the environmental paragraph of Norway’s constitution had been tested in court. It was made more precise in 2014 with wording that puts more responsibility on the state to make sure that “everyone has a right to an environment that secures health” and to nature where resources and diversity are protected. That’s what the two organizations claimed the state was violating by opening up more areas of the Arctic to oil and gas exploration and production. The court disagreed.
The lawsuit, which attracted international attention, was filed in an attempt to halt the issuance of more exploration licenses granted in the state’s 23rd licensing round. Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom don’t want the Barents Sea to replace the North Sea as the next major arena for Norway’s oil industry. The suit also sought to make sure the state evaluates the environmental consequences of issuing new exploration licenses.
Government attorneys, meanwhile, objected mightily to the attempt by the two organizations to move legislative powers to the courts, and never thought the suit should have been filed. Fredrik Sejersted, defense attorney for the state, declined immediate comment on the court’s verdict until he’d had time to read through the entire verdict.
The lawsuit could have inspired similar suits in other countries where industrial activity can threaten the environment or climate. Some are already proceeding, and NRK noted that environmental activists in the Netherlands won an historic victory when a court in The Hague ordered Dutch authorities to do more to reduce carbon emissions, on the grounds the Dutch government was obliged to fight climate change under the constitution.