Norway’s Supreme Court (Høyesterett) has agreed to evaluate whether the state has violated Norway’s constitution by choosing to issue oil exploration licenses in the Arctic. It’s a breakthrough for the environmental organizations that claim oil exploration and production in Arctic areas violate Norwegians’ constitutional rights to a safe and healthy environment.
“We look forward to a thorough examination as to whether the government breached the Constitution when they chose to grant new oil licenses in the Arctic, even though they knew the world was in the midst of a climate crisis,” stated Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway.
“We believe the state must be held accountable and that the oil licenses must be judged invalid,” Pleym continued in a press release Monday from Greenpeace Norway. “A victory will be historic and have major consequences for the climate.”
Greenpeace was among plaintiffs including Friends of the Earth Norway, the Grandparents Climate Campaign and Young Friends of the Earth who sued the Norwegian state in 2016. In their case called The People vs Arctic Oil, they specifically sued over the state’s 23rd licensing round that opened up new areas of the Barents Sea to oil drilling.
Public support for the case
The lawsuit has been backed by major rallies in Oslo, a long list of Norwegian academics, authors, musicians and other celebrities, and by a petition signed by more than half-a-million Norwegians. It claims that the state’s oil drilling licenses violate the constitutional rights of future generations in particular.
The organizations lost at the Oslo County Court level in January 2018 and they also lost their bid at the time for a direct appeal to the Supreme Court. Government attorney Fredrik Sejerstad argued successfully that Norwegian oil policy must be decided by Parliament, not by the courts. He claimed that any victory handed to the environmental organizations would take power away from Parliament, and even threaten Norway’s democracy.
The environmentally motivated plaintiffs then opted to go through normal procedures at the Norwegian appeals court, where they also lost in January, but were encouraged by what they called “important victories” in the appeals court’s verdict. It maintained that the Constitution does grant a justifiable right to a healthy environment and “that the scope of Norway’s responsibilties includes the environmental harm caused by the use of exported Norwegian oil in other countries.”
Therese Hugstmyr Woie, leader of Natur og Ungdom (now known as Young Friends of the Earth Norway), noted that Norway’s exported greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas “are already 10 times as high” as the country’s domestic emissions. “The world’s rapidly declining carbon budget does not have room for more oil extraction,” Woie stated.
The plaintiffs have been encouraged by donations including a NOK 250,000 from Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who shared award money she received and passed it on to help cover legal costs. The award was from Norway’s Fritt Ord organization that promotes freedom of expression.
“The support from the Greta Thunberg Foundation is a great honor, and we will make sure the donation is put to good use supporting the upcoming Supreme Court case against drilling in the Arctic,” Pleym stated. “The funds will be used to cover legal costs and information campaigns to make more people aware of what the case is about and what is at stake.”