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offshore oil drilling rig

Six climate activists and two environmental groups on Tuesday announced they are filing an application on Norway's Arctic oil drilling to the European Court of Human Rights. (Photo: nightman1965/Getty Images)

Norwegian 'People vs. Arctic Oil' Case Heads to European Human Rights Court

"We have to take action now to limit irreversible damage to our climate and ecosystems to ensure livelihoods for the coming generations," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett

After repeated rulings from Norwegian courts that the nation's oil policy does not violate its constitution, six young climate activists and two environmental groups on Tuesday announced an application for a related case to the European Court of Human Rights.

"Our application to the European Court of Human Rights is for me the manifestation of action and hope in the face of this crisis."
—Mia Cathryn Chamberlain, plaintiff

The activists—ages 20 to 27—along with Young Friends of the Earth Norway and Greenpeace Nordic are now arguing that Norwegian Arctic oil drilling violates Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (pdf), which outline the right to life and right to respect for private and family life, respectively.

"Within these two articles, the ECtHR has previously interpreted a right to protection from environmental harm," Greenpeace noted on a webpage for the case, referencing the court. Although there are no possible sanctions the ECtHR can impose if it issues a judgment and Norway refuses to comply, the plaintiffs believe such a move could impact the nation's foreign relations.

The "People vs. Arctic Oil" case comes just months ahead of a major summit for parties to the Paris climate agreement and in the wake of the International Energy Agency warning last month that the world must immediately transition from fossil fuels to utilizing renewable sources like solar and wind.

"The oil industry and the oil-friendly parties' bible has been the IEA reports," Frode Pleym, leader of Greenpeace Norway, told Bloomberg Green. "The IEA has now been clear on what we need to do to achieve the goals from Paris: that is to stop exploring for more oil."

"The Norwegian state is gambling with my future when it opens up new areas for climate-wrecking oil drilling," said 20-year-old Gina Gylver, one of the activists, in a statement. "This is yet another case of a greedy and oil-thirsty state leaving the detrimental consequences of global warming up to the future decision-makers, which are today's youth."

"The alarm bell has sounded," Gylver declared. "There's not a minute to waste. I cannot sit still and watch my future be ruined. We must take action and cut emissions today."

Another of the climate activists, 22-year-old Mia Cathryn Chamberlain, said that "climate change, and the inaction of our government, is depriving me of belief in the future. Optimism and hope is all we have, but it is slowly being drained from me."

"Because of this, I, like many other young people, have experienced depressive periods," she continued. "I've often had to leave the classroom when topics related to climate change were lectured, because I couldn't bear it. It just seemed so hopeless to learn about the importance of turning off the light when the world is burning. But our application to the European Court of Human Rights is for me the manifestation of action and hope in the face of this crisis."

"For those of us who live close to nature, the effects of climate change are already dramatic."
—Lasse Eriksen Bjørn, plaintiff

Fellow plaintiffs Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, 23, and Lasse Eriksen Bjørn, 24, shared specific concerns about how the climate emergency could affect their futures.

"For those of us who live close to nature, the effects of climate change are already dramatic," explained Isaksen. "The forests in my home region in the north of Norway support a rich ecosystem on which humans have depended for a long time."

"Now they are slowly dying because the shorter and milder winters are allowing invasive species to thrive," she said. "We have to take action now to limit irreversible damage to our climate and ecosystems to ensure livelihoods for the coming generations."

Bjørn shared that "as a young person from the Sea Sámi culture, I fear the impact that climate change will have on my people's way of life. The Sámi culture is closely related to the use of nature, and fisheries are essential. For our culture to continue without the traditional harvesting of the oceans would be impossible. A threat to our oceans is a threat to our people."

"The allowance of new oil drilling in vulnerable areas in the Barents Sea," Bjørn asserted, "is a violation of Articles 2 and 8 in the European Convention on Human Rights, granting me the right to be protected against decisions endangering my life and well-being."

The other individual activists in the case are Gaute Eiterjord, 25, and Ingrid Skjoldvær, 27.

Pleym, in his comments to Bloomberg, acknowledged that it could be years before the case concludes, if the Strasbourg-based ECtHR even accepts the application.

"It could take between one and five years," Pleym said. "But for us, it would be a victory in itself if they're accepting the case."

Reuters reported that the announcement of the case "came as Equinor, the oil firm majority-controlled by the government, on Tuesday announced it would speed up investments in renewable energy while also continuing to raise oil output for the next five years."

The outlet added that Norway's oil and energy ministry declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The application also comes after a Dutch court last month ordered fossil fuel giant Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions 45% by 2030, compared with 2019 levels, which Sara Shaw of Friends of the Earth International called "a landslide victory for climate justice."

"Our hope is that this verdict will trigger a wave of climate litigation against big polluters," Shaw said, "to force them to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels."

This post has been updated to credit Reuters, whose report was republished by another outlet.

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