Norway’s top court rejects climate challenge to Arctic oil exploration

Greenpeace have described the decision as "historical" and said it will impact policy for decades to come [Free-Photos / Pixabay]

Norway’s Supreme Court struck down a challenge from environmental groups trying to stop oil exploration in the Arctic, after a historic battle over the country’s climate change commitments on Tuesday (22 December).

By a vote of 11 to four, the top court rejected the argument of two organisations, Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth Norway, which said the granting of 10 oil exploration licences in the Barents Sea in 2016 was unconstitutional.

Referring to the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the organisations argued that the oil licenses violated article 112 of Norway’s constitution, guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy environment.

Their claims have already been rejected in two instances and hopes were finally dashed by the Supreme Court, which delivered the verdict by videoconference.

The majority of the court did agree with the activists that article 112 could be invoked if the state failed to meet its climate and environmental obligations, but they did not think it was applicable in this case.

The court also held that the granting of oil permits was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, in part because they did not t represent “a real and immediate risk” to life and physical integrity.

“We are outraged with this judgement, which leaves youth and future generations without constitutional protection,” Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, said in a statement.

“The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future,” she added.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Greenpeace had floated the idea of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The group has described the case as a “historical” one that could influence future oil policy in Norway, the biggest producer of hydrocarbons in Western Europe.

It follows a global trend that sees climate change increasingly appearing in court cases.

In the Netherlands in 2019, the state was ordered to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% before 2020 after a case was brought to the country’s highest court by the environmental group Urgenda.

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