Arctic oil exploration meets civil society

On the EDGE: Opinion

Arctic oil exploration protest

Photo: Will Rose / Greenpeace / Reuters
Greenpeace activists hold banners during a protest next to Statoil’s Songa Enabler oil rig in the Barents Sea, Norway, July 2017.

Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
The Norwegian American

The Norwegian government has been taken to court by climate activists. The lawsuit is grounded in the claim that the government’s decision to permit oil exploration in the Arctic infringes on the Norwegian constitution in endangering the lives of current and future generations, in addition to working against the Paris Agreement. This lawsuit is the first of its kind in testing the content of constitutional rights encapsulated in Article 112 of the Norwegian constitution. The verdict of this climate lawsuit could have far-reaching consequences. A victory for the climate activists with Greenpeace Norway in front may inspire other groups across the world to follow suit, and in either outcome, the verdict will give an idea of how committed Norway is to reducing impact on climate change.

The Greenpeace v. Norway legal case takes issue with possible consequences for the climate. Several climate-change litigations have sprung up in the past decade and have been centered on inadequate policies, such as cases in South Africa, New Zealand, and the United States. In 2015, for example, the climate liability suit resulted in a court ordering the Dutch government to cut carbon emissions by a minimum of 25 percent by 2020. The number of climate-change laws and policies across the world has sharply increased since the late 1990s. In many of these cases, the right to a clean or healthy environment is constitutional, writes The Economist. Greenpeace v. Norway will test Norwegian Royal Constitution Article 112, which states that:

“Everyone has the right to an environment that safeguards their health and to nature where production ability and diversity are preserved. Natural resources must be managed from a long-term and versatile consideration which also upholds this right for future generations” (trans: The Guardian).

This legal action was made possible by the amendment made to the law in 2014, wherein upholding and maintaining a healthy, productive, and diverse environment was changed from being merely a suggestion to now being an obligation. The hearings commenced on Nov. 14, 2017, and ended on Nov. 23, 2017, while the verdict is expected in January 2018.

This people-powered lawsuit is spearheaded by Greenpeace Norway but also driven forward by Nature and Youth, Grandparents Climate Action, Spire, and other climate activists including private citizens, indigenous activists, and various organizations. In 2016, Norway signed the Paris Agreement and pledged to become climate neutral by 2030, which earned Norway praise internationally as a green role model. Yet, contrary to these environmentally minded actions, the Norwegian government distributed licenses for oil exploration in the Barents Sea. The Arctic areas in question have so far remained untouched by the oil and gas industry, because the ecosystems inhabiting these areas are sensitive and very fragile.

The Norwegian state argues that Article 112 does not provide any real rights to “a safe environment,” nor that the state is obliged to secure such rights. In court, the state claimed that Article 112 only gives the right to implement environmental policies, and that it does not limit the environmentally harmful measures politicians may approve and adopt.

A recent video of a starving polar bear went viral and shocked people around the world as it made its way through the mass media. National Geographic writes that the photographer Paul Nicklen intended to share a more important message about how a warming climate has deadly consequences by telling a story about one polar bear. According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the “the predicted 2030 emissions will, even if the Paris pledges are fully implemented, place the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees this century,” which exemplifies why exactly this Greenpeace v. Norway court case is so important to climate activists, not just in Norway and the Arctic but also across the globe. Greenpeace maintains that far more oil, coal, and gas has been discovered than can be burned within safe limits for the climate. Despite this, Norway has handed out licenses to escalate this trend. Emissions are increasing rather than decreasing in as oil nations continue the search for more black gold. Not only polar bears will be impacted if this trend continues.

Legal cases such as Greenpeace v. Norway are important stepping stones for environment and climate action. When governments fall through on addressing major issues at hand, civil society can rise up and courts are given the stage to check on policymaking in the political climate.

Further Reading:

Linn Chloe Hagstrøm is a contributing editor from Bergen, a Pacific Lutheran University alumna, and currently pursuing a master’s of science in Norway.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 29, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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