Norway only liable for emissions produced within borders, court rules

An LNG super-tanker, registered in Norway, leaves a Lithuanian harbour. [Vytautas Kielaitis/ Shutterstock]

Environmental groups have failed in their bid to prevent Norway from issuing exploration licences in the Barents Sea. A court did not agree that the decision breaches the Norwegian constitution, insisting it only applies to emissions produced within the country’s borders. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’environnement reports.

In a blow to climate justice, an Oslo court has ruled that the legal right to a healthy environment, guaranteed by Article 122 of the Norwegian Constitution, does not cover oil and gas exports. It in effect means that only greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced within Norway’s territory can be scrutinised.

Three NGOs, Greenpeace Norway, Nature and Youth and the Grandparents Campaign for Climate, tried to convince the court that new oil exploration licenses are not in keeping with the goals of the Paris Agreement and Norwegians’ right to a healthy environment.

In its judgment, the court concluded that a May 2016 decision to award 13 oil companies (including US Chevron and CoconoPhilipps, Russian Lukoil and Norwegian Statoil) permits in the Barents Sea does not breach the Nordic country’s constitution.

Norway is counting on these licenses to revive its oil industry, after production fell by half since 2000. Oil company interest appears to be waning, as only 11 firms applied during the latest licensing round, down from 26 on the previous offering.

The NGOs, whose case was backed by a petition signed by 500,000 people, immediately expressed their disappointment.

“We don’t agree with this judgment. The climate cannot tolerate more oil. Climate scientists are very clear on this point. For us, it is clear that the Norwegian state is violating the Constitution and our right to a healthy environment,” insisted Nature and Youth boss Ingrid Skjoldvaer.

“While magistrates have recognised that the right to a healthy environment makes it possible to appeal against environmentally damaging government decisions, it is disappointing that they have not accepted Norway’s climate responsibility,” added Greenpeace Norway president Truls Gulowsen.

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Norway is the largest producer of oil and gas in Western Europe, making it the seventh largest exporter of GHG emissions in the world.

The court judgment actually bucks a a global trend of legal decisions, which are increasingly recognising the climate responsibility of states and which are no longer hesitating to dole out punishments.

A decision handed down by a Hague court in June 2015 is one notable example, where the Netherlands was criticised for its lack of climate action.

More recently, a regional German court agreed to hear the complaint of a Peruvian farmer against energy giant RWE and to assess the climatic responsibility of the group.

In the Barents Sea licensing case, NGOs now have four weeks to appeal the Oslo court’s decision and are currently liable for the state’s incurred legal costs (roughly €80,000).

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A farmer from the Peruvian Andes is taking German energy provider RWE to task for its contribution to the melting of a glacier that has endangered his hometown. EURACTIV Germany reports.

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