Greenpeace is stepping up its battle with the Norwegian government after it ruled against claims that further opening up the Arctic for oil and gas exploration were unconstitutional.

The Oslo District Court last month ruled the Norwegian government had not violated the country’s constitution stipulating citizens have a right to a clean environment.

This is — according to Greenpeace — the first time an environmental group has questioned a state on whether climate change should be protected as a constitutional right.

However, it follows other cases elsewhere in the world where environmental groups have challenged states about their environmental policy. A 2016 case in the Netherlands saw the campaign group the Urgenda Foundation score a victory against the Dutch government, forcing it to do more to combat climate change.

The court ruled that the government of the Netherlands should deepen emissions cuts to 25 percent by 2020.

Last month the Oslo District Court ruled the Norwegian government had not violated the country’s constitution which stipulates citizens have a right to a clean environment.

It also ruled the expansion of oil and gas exploration in the Barents Sea in the Arctic was acceptable under Norway’s anti-pollution laws.

The Court ordered Greenpeace, along with youth action group Nature and Youth, to pay the state’s legal fees, which were calculated at $75,000.

The Court did, however, recognise that under Norway’s constitution, Norwegians did have the right to a healthy environment which the government must uphold and were enforceable in court.

This was welcomed by Greenpeace. The head of its Norway branch, Truls Gulowsen, said:

“The case has contributed to raising awareness and given the environmental clause [of the constitution] real weight.”

What was said:

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After launching the appeal Gulowsen said:

There is already enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to seriously damage our future.

By opening up these pristine areas for oil exploration, Norway is effectively smuggling its emission outside of its own borders and furthering climate change, which harms everyone, everywhere.

Ingrid Skjoldvaer, head of Nature and Youth, added:

For us, it is crystal clear that the government violates the constitution . . . Norway’s oil policy is failing my generation and threatening my future.

Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, responded by saying the nation can keep drilling for decades and abide by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Why it matters:

Norway is Western Europe’s largest producer and exporter of oil and gas — through its expansion into the Arctic, the state is looking to continue to increase its capacity in these areas of the economy.

However, there is rising public opposition against oil drilling in Norway – an opinion poll in 2017 showed that, for the first time, a plurality of Norwegians favoured leaving some oil uncultivated or unrefined.

Environmental issues became a major factor when Norwegian parties were negotiating and seeking to form a coalition in late 2017.

Background:

Greenpeace and Nature and Youth initiated the lawsuit in response to the latest series of awards of licenses to companies such as Statoil, Chevron, Lukoil and ConoPhillips.

These licenses were granted for new oil and gas fields being opened up in the Barents Sea which is located in the Arctic Circle.

The environmental groups argued that this was unconstitutional since it violated Norwegian citizens’ constitutional right to a healthy environment.

They also claimed that it defied Norway’s commitment under the Paris climate agreement to keep global temperature increase at 1.5 degrees Celsius.