Norway’s environmental organizations lose climate case in the Supreme Court

Judge gavelPhoto: Ekaterina Bolovtsova / Pexels
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The Supreme Court has rejected environmental organizations’ appeal in a climate lawsuit against the Norwegian government.

From November 4 to 12, 2020, the Supreme Court of Norway heard an environmental group-led lawsuit against oil drilling in the Arctic. We covered the situation and case in detail here.

11 out of 15 judges prevailed

The country’s top judges have officially rejected the appeal that Nature and Youth Norway and Föreningen Greenpeace Norden filed against the State represented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.

“A sad day”, the environmental groups said upon hearing the historic verdict.

A majority in the Supreme Court said that the State did not violate the Constitution’s so-called environmental section when it awarded licenses for oil exploration in the Barents Sea in 2016. In the same year, environmental organizations sued because they believe that the allocation of exploration licenses violates the environmental section.

“The Supreme Court has not found that a procedural error has been made. The decision to open the Barents Sea southeast is thus not invalid”, concluded judge Borgar Høgetveit Berg when the verdict was announced on Tuesday morning, December 22, 2020.

Judge Berg was supported by eleven of the case’s 15 judges.

No violation of the Constitution ruled

While reading the judgment, Judge Berg pointed out that the government set specific targets for cuts in climate emissions, and that the allocation of the licenses had been considered in light of this.

“The last word must be given to elected bodies, not to the courts. Once the production license has been granted by the Storting, there is very little left for the courts to do. It is only if there is a gross violation of the Constitution. I do not find that this is the case here,” he said.

The environmental organizations also sued the state for violations of Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to life and the right to privacy and family life but were also unsuccessful here.

In contrast to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court does not believe that Norway is held responsible for climate emissions caused by Norwegian oil and gas exported abroad.

“Each state is responsible for incineration on its own territory”, Judge Berg stated.

Four dissenting judges: “Good reason to demand that climate considerations be adequately assessed”

Four judges dissented, believing the licenses should be declared invalid due to procedural errors that could have affected the decision to open up for oil drilling.

They also believe that possible emissions both nationally and globally should have been assessed in advance.

“This has not been investigated as required by the planning directive. There is good reason to demand that climate considerations be adequately assessed before an area is opened”, Judge Bergljot Webster said.

“The Supreme Court is failing today’s youth”

“This is a very heavy message and a hard blow. The Supreme Court is failing today’s youth”, Nature and Youth Norway leader Therese Hugstmyr Woie said.

She continued, “The court says that the Storting has the power to deprive today’s youth of a livable environment. It is not a matter, of course, that politicians take the necessary steps. How bad will it be, how scared will I be of my future?”

“It is absurd that our right to a livable environment can not stop the worst oil extraction. The Supreme Court has completely failed and jumps over climate responsibility”, said Greenpeace Norden leader Frode Pleym.

But something good has come out of the case, he believes:

“Even though we have lost, we have raised the issue of more oil exploration in the midst of a climate crisis in a completely different way.”

Minister of Petroleum pleased

Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru (H) is satisfied with the decision.

“We have received acceptance that our decision was valid. I am not surprised, given that it was a decision that was supported by a broad majority in the Storting.

“The verdict calls for a long-standing Norwegian tradition where difficult political issues are assessed, debated and finally weighed by elected representatives in the Storting”, she said.

What’s next?

The environmental organizations are not giving up.

They will now consider whether the case should be appealed directly to the European Court of Human Rights.

“We have no choice but to do everything we can to stop oil extraction,” Pleym said.

Source: Norway Today / NTB

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