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Norway’s top court rejects climate challenge to Arctic oil exploration

Norway's Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a challenge from environmental groups trying to stop oil exploration in the Arctic, after a historic battle over the country's climate change commitments.

Norway's top court rejects climate challenge to Arctic oil exploration
File photo: AFP

By a vote of 11 to four, the top court rejected the argument of two organisations — Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth Norway — which said that the granting of 10 oil exploration licences in the Barents Sea in 2016 was unconstitutional.

Referring to the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the organisations argued that the oil licenses violated article 112 of Norway's constitution, guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy environment.

Their claims have already been rejected in two instances and hopes were finally dashed by the Supreme Court, which delivered the verdict by videoconference.

The majority of the court did agree with the activists that article 112 could be invoked if the state failed to meet its climate and environmental obligations — but they did not think it was applicable in this case.

The court also held that the granting of oil permits was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, in part because they did not represent “a real and immediate risk” to life and physical integrity.

“We are outraged with this judgement, which leaves youth and future generations without constitutional protection,” Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, said in a statement.

“The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future,” she added.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Greenpeace had floated the idea of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The group has described the case as a “historical” one that could influence the future oil policy of Norway, the biggest producer of hydrocarbons in Western Europe.

This case also follows a global trend that sees climate change increasingly appearing in court cases.

In the Netherlands in 2019, the state was ordered to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent before 2020 after a case was brought to the country's highest court by the environmental group Urgenda.

READ ALSO: Norway oil licensing round 'insanely irresponsible': green group

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ENVIRONMENT

Norway rules out 2022 oil licences in unexplored areas

Norway will not grant new oil exploration licences in virgin or little-explored areas in 2022 under a political compromise on Monday that hands a modest  victory to opponents of fossil fuels.

Norway rules out 2022 oil licences in unexplored areas
A photo taken on August 30, 2021 shows the Petroleum Museum in Stavanger, Norway, built to show the history of Norway's oil exploration. Norway is the largest producer of hydrocarbons in Western Europe. In the face of the climate emergency, voices are being raised to abandon fossil fuels for good. Petter BERNTSEN / AFP

The Scandinavian country’s governing centre-left coalition supports continuing oil and gas activities but does not have a parliamentary majority, making it reliant on socialist MPs who prioritise green issues.

As part of a compromise on the draft 2022 budget, three parties agreed on Monday that Norway — Western Europe’s largest hydrocarbon producer — would not hold a 26th so-called “ordinary” concession round next year.

This mechanism has allowed oil companies to apply for exploration in previously unexplored areas of the Norwegian continental shelf since 1965.

But the deal does not rule out awarding oil licences in already heavily exploited areas.

Since the North Sea has been extensively explored, the agreement mainly concerns the Barents Sea in the Arctic

The oil industry was a major issue in legislative elections in September, indicating Norway’s growing difficulties in reconciling environmental concerns with exploiting energy resources.

In the 25th concession round in early 2021, only seven oil companies, including Equinor, Shell and Lundin, applied — the lowest number since at least 1978 according to local media.

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