The plaintiffs filed for the review of the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy’s decision (“the decision”) to grant production licenses for deep-sea extraction of oil and gas in the Barents Sea. Article 112 of Norway’s Constitution guarantees “every person the right to an environment that is conducive to health,” and that natural resources shall be managed on the basis of “comprehensive long-term considerations which will safeguard this right for future generations.” The plaintiffs argued that the licenses would allow extraction from undeveloped fossil fuel deposits, which would be inconsistent with climate change mitigation and temperature targets agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement. They also argued that emissions produced abroad from Norwegian oil and gas exports are relevant when assessing the government’s emissions and Article 112 duties, and that the Ministry’s climatic effect assessment for the decision was inadequate. The plaintiffs thereby sought a declaratory order stating that the decision violated Article 112. The Oslo District Court ruled in favour of the defendants. The plaintiffs have filed an appeal before the Norwegian Supreme Court on the grounds of, inter alia, incorrect application of the law and assessment of the evidence.
Environmental Legal Questions:
- Was the decision contrary to Article 112? The District Court ruled that the decision at hand is valid because Article 112 is not contravened if appropriate measures are taken. The risk of environmental harm and climate deterioration as a result of the Ministry’s decision were found to be limited. Furthermore, some of the plaintiffs’ issues of concern were beyond the scope of the judiciary. The case involves the validity of the decision on awarding licenses – not on opening the Barents Sea or the Norwegian government’s general climate policies. The political process is better suited to evaluate assessments on whether Norway is doing enough in the related climate area and whether it was prudent to open fields so far north and east.
- Are emissions produced abroad from Norwegian gas and oil exports relevant when assessing the Norwegian government’s emissions? Under international law, each country is responsible for GHG emissions on its territory, understanding that Norway’s international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement relate to national emissions targets.
- Did the government meet environmental impact assessment requirements? The Court found that the Parliament’s involvement is itself sufficient to find the duty to take measures fulfilled. The risk that may arise from exploration has not been specifically pointed out, and that the assessment related to these areas meets the legal requirements.