The Wave Is Rolling!

by Michelle Jonker-Argueta

November 29, 2017

As the People vs. Arctic Oil Trial comes to an end, the battle against climate change continues in courtrooms around the world.

© Will Rose / Greenpeace

The wave is rolling!

As the People vs. Arctic Oil Trial comes to an end, the battle against climate change continues in courtrooms around the world

After seven days of court hearings, the People vs. Arctic oil trial has come to an end.

It was quite a week – both inside and outside the courtroom! The fight for climate justice continues even after this trial is over, with a number of other cases in this rolling wave of climate lawsuits.

Inside the courtroom

The Plaintiffs argued that Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution grants people and future generations the right to a healthy environment, which can be enforceable in the courts if the government’s actions violate that right. The opening up of new areas for drilling for oil and gas in the Norwegian Arctic is one such violation. The Plaintiffs invoked the highest law in the land for this case – the Constitution.

Greenpeace Nordic and Nature and Youth take on the Norwegian government in court for opening up new areas in the Arctic to oil drilling. They are arguing that drilling for oil violates the Paris Agreement as well as the Norwegian constitution. Winning the case could set a precedent for future climate cases around the world.

The Plaintiffs walked the Court through the evidence showing that what the State attorney called “an ordinary decision” to open up a new area for drilling is anything but in these extraordinary times. We have discovered more oil than we can afford to burn if we are to keep the global average temperature rise to 1.5C (or “well below 2C”) as the world agreed in Paris.

Developed nations such as Norway have committed themselves under the Paris Agreement to take the lead and have their efforts in combatting climate change reflect their highest possible ambitions to maintain the temperature targets. The Norwegian government is breaking a strong international commitment by opening up new areas for drilling in the Arctic.

We expect a judgment during the first weeks of January 2018.

Outside the courtroom

While the insufficiency of the socio-economic assessment to open up new areas for drilling in the Arctic was being proven in court, something extraordinary happened. The bank managing the largest wealth fund in the world the Norwegian Central bank (Norges Bank) recommended the Norwegian Government to divest from oil and gas. These news echoed our expert witnesses analysis that there is great economic risk in the uncertainty of the future of oil and gas.

At the same time, while the Court was hearing arguments from the Plaintiffs that Norway’s drilling in the Arctic is a human rights issue for countries outside of Norway, a UN Committee called upon Norway to revise its policy on Arctic Oil drilling given that climate change disproportionately affects women.

These external validations of the arguments we were making in Court may resonate with the judge as he reviews the evidence.

The wave is rolling!

21 youth plaintiffs sued the US government for failure to act on climate change. On 11 December 2017, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court will hear oral arguments on the latest attempt from the Trump administration to stop the case. If the youth prevail, we expect the trial to start on 5 February 2018.

The Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines have called on 47 carbon producers to attend its investigation into their responsibility for climate-related human rights abuses. On 11 December 2017, the Commission will hold its preliminary conference to consider witnesses and evidence and set the next steps of the inquiry.   

An appeals court in Germany declared admissible a Peruvian Farmer’s claim against a German energy giant for contributing to climate change. On 30 November 2017, the Court will decide on next steps.

The Dutch government has filed an appeal against the successful climate case brought by Urgenda. The trial is set to begin on 28 May 2018.

We are expecting even more people around the world to use the law and courts to combat  climate change. Ordinary people are paying attention and rising up.

For the People vs. Arctic Oil case, we had over half a million people sign their name in support of our case.

In addition, the climate science regarding who is responsible is getting better and more reliable to withstand the rules of evidence in a courtroom. Researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists published a new peer-reviewed study that links the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to certain fossil fuel companies, which may help in legal actions against them.

The People vs. Arctic Oil trial may be over but the movement to hold governments and corporations accountable for climate change has begun – and it’s getting stronger!

Michelle Jonker-Argueta

By Michelle Jonker-Argueta

Michelle Jonker-Argueta is an attorney with Greenpeace International and advises the Arctic & Oil, Oceans, and Food campaigns. Prior to joining Greenpeace, Michelle worked in international human rights, international criminal law, and asylum law. She holds a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.

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