Norwegian Youth’s Case Against Arctic Oil Breaks New Ground

How much is too much damage to the climate and exactly whose responsibility is it to protect the environment for coming generations? After three failed rounds in the national court system, Norwegian youth are taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

As one of the largest oil producing nations on earth, it is easy to understand why Norwegians all have an opinion on the future of Norway’s drilling. However, when the Norwegian government opened up new areas for oil drilling for the first time in 20 years that went further north into Arctic waters than ever before back in 2017, Norwegian youth and climate organizations had enough. Coming together, they filed a climate case against the Norwegian Government arguing that in light of the latest climate science, drilling for oil in the Barents Sea is a violation of the right to a healthy and safe environment, a right enshrined in the Norwegian constitution.

Since then, the historic case has been three times tried and three times lost in the Norwegian court system, culminating in Norway’s Supreme Court in November 2020 where judges voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Norwegian state.

In addition to Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth, the individual applicants include six young activists: Ingrid Skjoldvær (27), Gaute Eiterjord (25), Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen (23), Mia Cathryn Chamberlain (22), Lasse Bjørn (24), and Gina Gylver (20). Photo: © Lasse Fløde / Greenpeace

Climate is winning in the court of public opinion

Since the loss at the Supreme Court, the Norwegian government has opened up a new round of 61 oil exploration concessions including 3 in the Barents Sea. One of the plaintiffs in the case is Greenpeace Nordic, and its Head of Communications Daniel Bengtsson shares with Suston that while the repeated rulings and behavior of the Norwegian government have been disappointing, their case is still making important ground elsewhere:

”We have actually seen a big shift in public opinion and debate in Norway since this lawsuit started. Climate and oil are now high on the agenda, and fewer and fewer people want Norway to continue searching for new oil.”

With public opinion slowly shifting in Norway and beyond, Greenpeace be joining six youth to bring the case on to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. And just as the case has changed sentiment and history in Norway, they are expecting it to have an international impact as well:

”The European Court has never heard a similar case previously, so the probability of victory is unknown. If the application is admitted, it will in itself be an important recognition of our fight against oil expansion in the Arctic.”

The European Court will now consider whether or not to accept the case, and it could still take years to reach a verdict.  But come what may, Bengtsson says that Greenpeace Nordic and the other plaintiffs are determined to see this through to the end:

”We will still have accomplished raising huge awareness about the issue, and we will have tried every legal means to stop Arctic oil drilling.”


Main Photo: © Jonne Sippola / Greenpeace


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