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Norway's largest youth-led organization, Nature and Youth, is the first to challenge the constitution's environmental clause in court. (Photo: Natur Og Ungdom)

Norway's largest youth-led organization, Nature and Youth, is the first to challenge the constitution's environmental clause in court. (Photo: Natur Og Ungdom)

Norwegian Youth Taking Government to Court Over 'Unconstitutional' Arctic Drilling

Expansion of Arctic oil drilling after ratification of the Paris climate agreement is labeled a 'dangerous act of hypocrisy'

Lauren McCauley

Taking a page from young people in the United States and elsewhere who are standing up for their right to healthy environment, Norwegian youth on Monday filed suit against their country's government for expanding Arctic oil drilling despite increasingly dire warnings about the impact such activity is having on the planet's climate.

The plaintiffs, which include Greenpeace Norway and the nation's largest youth-led organization, Nature and Youth, are arguing that Norway has violated citizens' and future generations' constitutional right to a healthy environment, citing Article 112 of Norway's Constitution:

Every person has the right to an environment that is conducive to health and to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are maintained. Natural resources shall be managed on the basis of comprehensive long-term considerations which will safeguard this right for future generations as well. The authorities of the state shall take measures for the implementation of these principles.

This marks the first time that environmental clause is being tested in court.

Ingrid Skjoldvær from Nature and Youth said that the Norwegian government "has an obligation to keep its climate promises," which include both those made in the Paris climate agreement as well as the constitutional right to "a healthy environment for ours and future generations." 

Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among the first world leaders to ratify the Paris agreement, but at the same time the government awarded drilling licenses to 13 companies, including Statoil, Chevron and Aker BP, to explore for oil in the Barents Sea, the Guardian notes.

In light of those promises, the suit is asking the court to "invalidate those licenses as more oil will cause more emissions, not less," Truls Gulowsen, head of Greenpeace Norway, explained in a translated press statement.

"Signing [the Paris Agreement] while throwing open the door to Arctic oil drilling is a dangerous act of hypocrisy," Gulowsen continued. "By allowing oil companies to drill in the Arctic, Norway risks undermining global efforts to address climate change. When the government fails to redress this we have to do what we can to stop it."

"This is the People vs. Arctic oil," Skjoldvær added. To that end, Greenpeace International has also launched a petition against the expanded drilling which will be used in court "as evidence of a growing global movement against Arctic oil."

Also involved in the suit is former NASA scientist turned climate activist James Hansen, who has supported similar youth-led legal actions in the U.S..

In a letter to the prime minister seen by the Guardian, Hansen wrote: "I will not mince words, Mrs. Solberg. Your government's actions are utterly at odds with the scientific consensus that underpins the Paris agreement. Norway appears hell-bent on sabotaging the treaty before it has even come into effect."

Speaking to the newspaper from Oslo, Hansen said that, in terms of climate, the Norwegian government was acting like a "rogue state."

"Norway is not all that green. It is burning 70 percent more fossil fuels per person than Sweden, and mining 20 times more fossil fuels than it needs for its own use. It is using that to create wealth but it is going to have to decide: does it want to be a rogue state or does it want to obey the rule of law?"

The tactic of youth taking their government to court for infringing on their environmental rights has found recent success in the U.S., and has also been employed in Sweden, the Philippines, Uganda, and Pakistan, explained Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children's Trust, which works with young people worldwide to provide legal and scientific support in these cases.

"Youth are rising up globally and taking their governments to court to seek protection of their inalienable rights to a stable climate system," Olson said. "This youth legal movement is growing."

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