A historical court case starts in Oslo on 14 November. The Norwegian government being sued by Greenpeace, accused of violating the Paris agreement and Norway’s own constitution. The government has opened four new fields for extraction of oil in previously untouched areas in the Barents Sea. The Plaintiffs – lead by Greenpeace and Nature and Youth – are suing the government for illegal actions as a result. Norway is a large exporter of emissions globally, with high exports of oil and gas. It exports more of these raw materials than Canada. Opening of oil licences in the Arctic has provoked activists into action and the case is now being taken to court in a unique climate lawsuit.
At the same time, the UN Climate Change conference of the year is happening in Bonn, Germany, following the agreement of the landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015. If countries individually and together are to meet the agreed targets, much of the known fossil fuel reserves in the world have to be kept untouched. The global community has agreed, with the notable exception of US President Donald Trump, who has not signed the Paris Agreement. This is in order to keep global warming temperatures below an average of 2-degree increase. Developed, high income countries like Norway have agreed to take the lead and Greenpeace are arguing that increasing their own oil production will go against that commitment.The new openings of areas for fossil fuel extractions are far north and the Arctic is already one of the areas most sensitive to climate change.
The case is attracting some interest because of its constitutional nature. The paragraph of the constitution the new oil fields are potentially threatening is a relatively new amendment to the constitution, about universal right to a safe and healthy environment. The constitution states that productivity and diversity of natural resources needs to be sustained and this is the responsibility of the government. Environmental organisations claim that the government of Norway does not take this right seriously when it licences new fields in the Arctic for extraction of fossil fuels. If the court finds that this paragraph is being breached, a constitutional precedent could be set, with large scale implications for environmental policy in Norway going forward.
The lawsuit itself is largely crowdfunded and has received attention outside of Norway. A lawsuit like this is rare but on a global scale it is not alone. Several similar lawsuits are being raised in Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and other places. A notable example is from the Netherlands in 2015, when activists won in court and the Dutch government was found guilty of being negligent in its actions to prevent climate change.
The result of the court case is unknown, but it is likely to have consequences regardless of what Oslo district court rules, both for Noray’s domestic policy and beyond. The fight against climate change, bolstered by the Paris climate agreement, is likely to continue apace across the world, whatever the result.