Climate activists lose landmark lawsuit challenging Arctic oil drilling in Norway

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - January 5, 2018
The Goilat platform is currently the only operational oilfield in the Norwegian sector of the Barents Sea. A new lawsuit seeks to block further oil and gas development in Norway's Arctic. (Thomas Nilsen / The Barents Observer)
The Goliat platform in the Norwegian sector of the Barents Sea. (Thomas Nilsen / The Barents Observer)

The government acts in accordance with the law when awarding new petroleum exploration licenses for the Barents Sea, Oslo District Court ruled Thursday, in response to a lawsuit challenging the licenses on climate change grounds.

Greenpeace, one of the three organizations which filed the landmark suit, has published the court’s 49-pages comprehensive ruling.

The lawsuit challenged Norway’s 23rd oil licensing round, arguing that opening up the Arctic continental shelf would violate the country’s Paris agreement commitments to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels will lead to a high risk of triggering mass species extinction, widespread ecosystem collapse, and the destruction of the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

Amended three years ago, the Norwegian Constitution’s Article 112 is aimed at ensuring the state has an obligation to take measures guaranteeing the citizens’ rights to a secure climate, including for future generations.

Summing up the case, the judges write that Article 112 in the Constitution provides a right that could mean a decision, like the one in question, could be made invalid.

“Whether Norway is doing enough for the environment and climate and if it was sensible to open fields so far north and east, are questions depending on composed assessments that are better assessed through political processes that the courts are not eligible to test,” the ruling says.

“We disagree with the court ruling. The climate can’t deal with more oil. That is a fact climate scientists agree on. Norway’s oil politics fail my generation and threaten my future,” says Ingrid Skjoldvær, head of Nature and Youth, one of the other organizations suing the state.

She continues:

“We have shown that the Norwegian Constitution gives future generations the right to a safe and healthy environment. We see this as an important step for stronger protection of the environment, that can serve as inspiration for youth all around the world.”

Truls Gulowsen with Greenpeace Norway agrees:

“While it’s good news that the judgement acknowledges the Environmental Article in the Norwegian Constitution, it’s very disappointing that it neglects Norway’s responsibility for damaging the planet’s climate.”

“The demand for immediate action against climate change may not have been heard by the Norwegian government or courts, but every environment defender has heard the millions of people across the world who want Arctic protection. This decision should serve to shape the playbook which is being used everywhere by people taking their governments’ to court to protect their basic human right to a healthy environment,” Gulowsen says.

The environmental groups will now read thoroughly through the ruling before deciding whether to appeal or not.

After a disappointing drilling campaign in the Barents Sea in 2017, Norway’s oil major Statoil told the Barents Observer that five more prospects are to be drilled in 2018.

Norway’s future income from oil exploration will come from Arctic waters, the government argues.