The People vs Arctic Oil

Environmental groups are suing the Norwegian government after it handed out new licences to drill in the Arctic for the first time in 20 years.

Greenpeace Norway and Young Friends of the Earth Norway (Vågenes Natur og Ungdom) filed a lawsuit following Norway’s issuing of 13 licences to drill in unexplored areas of the northern Barents Sea in May 2016, against the advice of marine and climate researchers.

The new areas licensed for drilling are part of fragile and complex ecosystems, and some are close to Iskanten, the ice-edge zone before the open ocean.

The activists behind the trial say its impact will go beyond the resolution of the court case. ‘This is an opportunity to mobilize people, create awareness and tell the fossil industry that the fight against Arctic oil continues,’ said Tina Andersen from Young Friends of the Earth Norway.

Campaigners argue that the licenses violate the rights of young people, as well as article 112 of the Norwegian constitution – which binds the state to protect and maintain a diverse and healthy natural environment.

They will also cite the Paris Agreement, ratified by Norway, which pledges to keep global warming under 2ºC. Researchers from University College London suggest that to meet this target all Arctic oil should be kept underground.

A crowdfunding campaign has raised over 500,000 Norwegian Kroner ($60,000) for legal costs. The first hearing will take place this coming November in the Oslo District Court. Campaigners expect the case to go through to the Court of Appeal.

A recent study by the United Nations environment agency UNEP reveals a proliferation of climate suits, which have tripled since 2014.

‘The science can stand up in a court of law, and governments need to make sure their responses to the problem do too,’ said UNEP head Erik Solheim.