Last February, a court room built in ice in Kirkenes staged an artist impression of the climate lawsuit completed for real in Oslo district court. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Environmentalists lose climate lawsuit over Arctic oil drilling

Oslo District Court on Thursday ruled that Norway’s drilling for oil in the Barents Sea does not violate a constitutional right to a healthy environment.
January 04, 2018


The government acts in accordance with the law when awarding new petroleum exploration licenses for the Barents Sea, the ruling by Oslo District Court reads. Greenpeace, one of the three organizations which filed the lawsuit, has published the court’s 49-pages comprehensive ruling.

The lawsuit was challenging Norway’s 23rd oil licensing round arguing that opening up the Arctic continental shelf would violate the country’s Paris agreement commitments to limit temperature rise to 1,5 degrees Celsius.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that global warming of over two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels will lead to a high risk of triggering mass species extinction, widespread ecosystem collapse, and the destruction of the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

Amended three years ago, the Norwegian Constitution’s Article 112 is aimed to ensure the State has an obligation to take measures guaranteeing the citizens’ rights to a secure climate, including for the descendants. 


Summing up the case, the judges write that Article 112 in the Constitution provides a right that could mean a decision, like the one in question, could be made invalid.

«Whether Norway is doing enough for the environment and climate and if it was sensible to open fields so far north and east, are questions depending on composed assessments that are better assessed through political processes that the courts are not eligible to test,» the ruling says.

«We disagree with the court ruling. The climate can’t deal with more oil. That is a fact climate scientists agree on. Norway’s oil politics fail my generation and threaten my future,» says Ingrid Skjoldvær, head of Nature and Youth, one of the other organizations suing the state.

She continues: 

«We have shown that the Norwegian Constitution gives future generations the right to a safe and healthy environment. We see this as an important step for stronger protection of the environment, that can serve as inspiration for youth all around the world. »

Truls Gulowsen with Greenpeace Norway agrees: 

«While it’s good news that the judgement acknowledges the Environmental Article in the Norwegian Constitution, it’s very disappointing that it neglects Norway’s responsibility for damaging the planet’s climate.»

«The demand for immediate action against climate change may not have been heard by the Norwegian government or courts, but every environment defender has heard the millions of people across the world who want Arctic protection. This decision should serve to shape the playbook which is being used everywhere by people taking their governments’ to court to protect their basic human right to a healthy environment,» Gulowsen says.

The environmental groups will now read thoroughly through the ruling before deciding wether to appeal or not.

Three year’s ago, Nature and Youth demonstrated against Arctic oil drilling outside the Arctic Fronteries venue in Tromsø. Ingrid Skjoldvær in front. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

After a disappointing drilling campaign in the Barents Sea in 2017, Norway’s oil major Statoil told the Barents Observer that five more prospects are to be drilled in 2018.

Norway’s future income from oil exploration will come from Arctic waters, the government argues. 


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