Norwegian court’s ruling in favour of Arctic drilling sparks outrage

Norwegian Supreme Court has ruled against environmental groups and in favour of the government following a lawsuit claiming the government violated the people’s right to a healthy environment by issuing new exploration licences for Arctic drilling.

Photo by Johanna Hanno/Greenpeace
Photo by Johanna Hanno/Greenpeace

The Norwegian government, represented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, was sued for breach of Section 112 of the Constitution in relation to the award of production licenses in the 23rd licensing round.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday sided with two previous rulings made by lower courts in Norway.

Namely, the case was taken to the appeals court in April 2018 by Greenpeace and Norwegian environmental group Nature & Youth following a ruling by the Oslo District Court in favour of the Norwegian government in January of the same year.

In January 2020, the appeals court dismissed the lawsuit against the Norwegian government and its granting of new exploration licenses in the Arctic Barents Sea back in 2016.

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After that, the environmentalists took the case to the Supreme Court.

In a final ruling on Tuesday, 22 December 2020, the Supreme Court sided with lower courts with 11 votes, while 4 votes believed the decision was not valid due to procedural errors.

According to a statement by Greenpeace, these four believed that it was a mistake that possible future global emissions of greenhouse gases were not considered in the underlying study.

The environmental organizations deemed the ruling by the Supreme Court deeply provocative, showing zero understanding of the seriousness of the climate crisis. 

Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Tina Bru, commented: “The Supreme Court has established that our decision in 2016 to award production licenses in the 23rd licensing round is valid. The decision was in line with the applicable legislation, and it neither violates Section 112 of the Constitution, nor Norway’s international obligations”.

Bru added: “This ruling is important and thorough, and we are very satisfied with the result. We have gained acceptance for the validity of our decision”.

But the environmental activists are not satisfied with the result and the court’s ruling has sparked outrage among the activists.

Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of Nature & Youth in Norway, said: “We are outraged with this judgment, which leaves youth and future generations without Constitutional protection. The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future.

“The youth in Norway fighting against Arctic oil drilling is used to being disappointed, and we will continue our fight. In the streets, in voting booths and in the courts if needed”.

Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, commented: “It is absurd that our right to a liveable environment cannot be used to stop Norway’s most harmful activities for our climate and environment. We share in the outrage the youth of Norway will feel faced with this decision. It is a disappointment but we are not deterred.

“We will now consider all possibilities to stop this harmful industry, including an application to the European Court of Human Rights”.

While Norway is still relying massively on oil and gas exploration to support its economy, neighbouring Denmark has recently announced its decision to cancel all future licensing rounds for new oil and gas exploration and production permits in the Danish part of the North Sea and end existing production by 2050.