Climate activists challenge Norway’s Arctic oil plans in Europe rights court
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Climate activists challenge Norway’s Arctic oil plans in Europe rights court

A group of Norwegian climate activists on Tuesday formally requested that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) review Norway’s plans for expanded Arctic oil and gas extraction, arguing that their “rights to life and private and family life are directly affected by climate change.”

Environmental groups Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth, along with six Norwegians aged 20 to 27, submitted a 28-page lawsuit application to the Strasbourg-based court. They hope the court will determine that, by allowing new oil drilling in the midst of a climate crisis, Norway is in breach of fundamental human rights, specifically European Convention on Human Rights Articles 2 and 8.

“The allowance of new oil drilling in vulnerable areas in the Barents Sea is a violation of Articles 2 and 8 in the European Convention on Human Rights, granting me the right to be protected against decisions endangering my life and well-being,” said Lasse Eriksen Bjørn, one of the six applicants. “As a young person from the Sea Sámi culture, I fear the impact that climate change will have on my people’s way of life.”

Popularized as “The People v. Arctic Oil,” the issue has been in and out of Norwegian courts for nearly five years. Two of the applicants challenged Norway’s decision to grant ten licenses for oil drilling in the Barents Sea in 2016 under Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution. In 2018, the Oslo District Court held that Article 112 only applies to local environmental harm and greenhouse gas emissions in Norway, but not to emissions from combustion that occurs abroad. The case was then dismissed on appeal.

Finally, in its December 2020 judgment, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that the drilling decision did not violate the “right to a healthy environment” as provided by Article 112, and the applicants’ appeal was denied. Four judges dissented, arguing that the government had failed to assess potential climate emissions stemming from exported Norwegian oil.

The ruling cleared the way for Norway—western Europe’s biggest oil-producing nation—to continue uninterrupted oil and gas exploration, despite being a leader in adopting green technologies and setting ambitious climate goals. The contrast in climate priorities continues to draw criticism from the UN. In early June, Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru announced plans to continue oil and gas extraction through at least 2050, in spite of warnings from the International Energy Agency.

The Norwegian lawsuit is the latest in an emerging branch of international climate change-related litigation. In May, a Hague court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030. That same day, a court in Uganda heard its first human rights case regarding climate change impacts. An Australian federal court also ruled that the government has an affirmative duty to protect youth from the climate crisis.

Most recently, the ECHR ordered 33 European governments to respond to a climate change lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youth.