An unprecedented legal case has been filed against the Norwegian Government for allowing oil companies including state-owned Statoil to drill for new oil in the Arctic.
The case, part of a global legal phenomenon, comes only days after Statoil pulled the plug on its New Zealand operations in Northland, and just before a visit by Norway’s indigenous Sami Parliament, who are meeting with iwi around the country to discuss Statoil’s presence here.
The Sami visit follows a Maori delegation to Norway last year, who met with local Sami indigenous people and attended the annual Statoil shareholders meeting to put the owners on notice that their investment in Aotearoa would be met by stiff resistance.
The legal case filed against the Norwegian Government last night for allowing oil companies. including Statoil, to drill for new oil in the Arctic Barents Sea, is the first following the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement. The plaintiffs, Nature and Youth and Greenpeace Nordic, argue that Norway is violating the Paris Agreement and the people’s constitutional right to a healthy and safe environment for future generations.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate campaigner and lawyer, Kate Simcock, says the case could have implications around the world.
“With the success of the Urgenda climate case against the Dutch Government, and now this, we’re seeing that it’s possible for ordinary people and smart legal tactics to hold governments to account on their plans to tackle climate change,” she says.
“This is a growing legal phenomenon. We’re seeing it here too. New Zealand’s appalling emissions reduction targets are already under challenge and our Government should be watching this case very closely and re-thinking just what it means to have no plan for cutting our climate pollution.”
Around this time last year, 24-year-old Waikato law student Sarah Thomson commenced a case against the New Zealand Government, saying its emissions targets were irrational.
Thomson’s case was one of the first of a ripple of climate litigation spreading around the globe, which have the backing of a broad civil society coalition, are fronted by young environmentalists, and supported by scientists, indigenous leaders, activists and public figures.
Like New Zealand, Norway was among the first countries in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement, which is about to enter into force. By ratifying, countries promise to ambitiously reduce emissions and help limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
Yet at the same time, both countries are opening up new oil license rounds allowing companies to explore for the dirty fuels that scientists say must stay in the ground if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe.
In New Zealand, the Government’s 2017 Block Offer consultation process has just started. The process involves NZPAM seeking input from iwi, hapū and local authorities about the proposed areas that will be opened for oil exploration in 2017.
Last year’s consultation round saw communities speaking out about local oil exploration, with councils in Gisborne, Wellington, Kaikoura, Christchurch and Dunedin all voicing concern or opposition to the proposal.
In partnership with Chevron, Statoil will continue to prospect for oil in New Zealand’s lower East Coast waters. And across the globe, the Norwegian Government is allowing Statoil and other oil companies to start a major new exploration campaign in the Barents Sea, where they want to drill up to seven new exploratory wells in 2017.
In the wake of the oil company’s sudden exit from Northland and announcement that it will now focus attention on its East Coast permits, Greenpeace New Zealand has called for a “summer of action” to drive Statoil and other oil companies out of the country for good.