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All of us vs. Arctic Oil

When politicians put oil and profit before people and planet, we need to hold them accountable.

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I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like I needed some good news this January. Last Thursday I was hoping Norway might deliver. So while my toddler wanted to be entertained on a train trip to her Nana’s, I kept interrupting Pepper Pig to check the news from the Norwegan courts. It’s been over three years since we teamed up with the Norwegan youth organisation Natur og Ungdom to file the case. Essentially we argue that Arctic drilling licences violate the constitutionally-protected rights of future generations to a healthy environment. I can’t lie, at the front of my mind are the rights of my daughter, growing up in a world where extreme fires, floods and storms are a tragic norm. 

The People vs Arctic Oil: Historic Lawsuit against Arctic Oil in Oslo © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

With the first headline my heart sank – we lost the case. But quickly I got a message explaining more. We had won the really important point that the greenhouse gas emissions from the oil that Norway exports are the responsibility of the Norwegian government. Until now fossil fuel producing countries like to think they can wash their hands of that responsibility when they sell on what they drill and dig up. We had also won the point that the Norwegian Constitution protects the right to a healthy environment, Article 112. 

However the bottom line is that the Court of Appeal found that awarding oil licences to fossil fuel companies didn’t clash with Article 112. In a strong statement the Norwegan co-plaintiffs responded immediately, pledging to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Deciding to file the case over three years ago was a long shot. No case like this had won before. The environmental paragraph in the Constitution had been strengthened by Parliament but had not yet been litigated. It seemed wild that Norway could be the first major oil producing country to outlaw oil expansion. 

 Personal statements to the Norwegian Government, collected from around the world © Greenpeace  © Greenpeace
Personal statements to the Norwegian Government, collected from around the world. © Greenpeace

And we didn’t take lightly the financial commitment. Legal battles are not cheap and all our money comes from donations. Happily the Court of Appeal also found that because this case is so important, we won’t have to pay the costs of the other side. 

In a country torn between it’s green conscience and oil-drenched economy its court has become a theatre where that paradox played out. On one side, the passionate young people from Natur og Ungdom, the determined Grandparents for Climate Action and Friends of the Earth Norway, alongside Greenpeace. Our lawyers were the voice of the movement. At the heart of the legal argument; the constitution of the nation: Article 112, which protects the right to a healthy environment. On the other side, the State, backing up the interests of the oil sector (which in Norway is to a considerable extent State owned). All the while, in the wings, a broad grassroots coalition pushed for their constitution to be upheld and for their country to make the transition to a greener economy. The case and the deep debates it stirred up have been massive in Norway’s media since we filed. 

People vs Oil Court Case Oslo - Day 1© Johanna Hanno / Greenpeace
People vs Oil Court Case Oslo – Day 1 © Johanna Hanno / Greenpeace

We are part of an international wave of climate court cases which use the justice system to force action on climate change in the face of political lethargy. The Norwegian courts only have jurisdiction over Norway – but the rights at the heart of this case are universal and a win could send shockwaves around the globe, so stay tuned!

Over the last three years so much has changed. The seemingly endless news of floods, fires and storms – at the same time the rise of the youth strikers, Extinction Rebellion, Greta  – and overall a huge surge in climate consciousness. Every single person who has changed their mind or stepped up their actions has been part of a wave of change. You know who you are and thank you. Things are now possible that three years ago seemed impossible. And no doubt in years to come we will look back and say the same. So I say bring on the Supreme Court. 

Sophie Allain is a campaigner with the Greenpeace International Oil Team