Norway’s ‘Urgenda’ moment? Greenpeace Nordic Ass’n v. Ministry of Petroleum and Energy

Between 4-12 November 2020 the Norwegian Supreme Court heard an appeal from environmental groups seeking the invalidation of the granting of licenses in 2016 to conduct exploratory drilling in the South and South East Barents Sea, an area on the Norwegian continental shelf spanning about 77 acres where oil and gas fields have recently been built. Companies were awarded licenses in 2016 to conduct exploratory drilling in the South and South East Barents Sea, an area on the Norwegian continental shelf spanning about 77 acres where oil and gas fields have recently been built. Parliament approved opening the area for exploration three years earlier.

Their action is brought under the Norwegian Constitution’s environmental provisions, art. 112, which were passed in 2014. They argue that exploratory drilling licenses violate a constitutional right to a healthy environment. They claim the oil-exploration plans were not fully researched before being approved and also rely on a previously unknown expert report throwing doubt on the economic benefit of drilling in the Barents Sea, which was commissioned by the government in 2013 but not passed onto the Parliament before its vote approving exploration in the Barents Sea. The Norwegian government has said that it fulfilled its constitutional duty by compensating for negative effects on the environment in other areas.

The action has failed in the lower courts, although both recognised the right of citizens to bring actions under the environmental provisions of the Constitution, with the higher court accepting that the right involved the impact from climate emissions — including those from oil and gas exported abroad, which is the case for most of Norway’s production.

The Norwegian government intends to continue requesting exploration licences and in June 2020 announced licensing awards in predefined areas (APA) 2020 which comprises blocks in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea.

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