Strasbourg/Oslo, 30 June 2022 – Six young activists and environmental organisations have asked the European Court of Human Rights to secure their rights in the face of climate change by ceasing all new licences for exploration of oil and gas issued by the Norwegian State.
The applicants argue that the Norwegian State’s new oil drilling is in breach of their human rights. In their observations on law and facts from the government response, the applicants ask the court to order the Norwegian State to cease all new licences for exploration of oil and gas.
“We are not asking for the right to live better than the generation before us, we are only asking for the right to live without the unbearable burden of catastrophic climate change, for the right to dream again of a future,” said Gaute Eiterjord, one of the youth activists behind the application and former head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway.
In 2016, the Norwegian government opened up new areas for oil drilling in the Barents Sea, further north than ever before, in the fragile and diminishing Arctic. In June 2021, after fighting for years in the Norwegian legal system, six young activists and environmental organisations Young Friends of the Earth Norway and Greenpeace Nordic filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.
The court asked the Norwegian government to answer several questions relating to the case. Now, the applicants have filed their responses to the government’s observations. They argue that the decision to issue new licences for oil and gas extraction in the Norwegian Arctic violates their fundamental human rights and increases the disproportionate risk of harm faced by the applicants due to climate change. The applicants do not claim to represent society as a whole, but rather argue that the licences constitute a breach of their individual rights.
“The Norwegian State’s inadequate environmental and climate policies are discriminatory against us, the younger generation, as it means that we have to bear a heavier climate burden in the future,” said Eiterjord.
New data has revealed extreme rates of global heating in the Arctic, up to seven times higher than the global average. During the last 20 years, the temperature in northeastern Svalbard has increased by up to 5.4 °C degrees, the greatest heating documented in the world.
“It is the biggest irony in our time, that the Norwegian State is drilling for new oil further and further north in the same area that is melting due to climate change,” said Eiterjord.
In their application, the applicants argue that the primary obligation of states when a threat to life exists is to adopt a legal framework to protect the lives of its inhabitants. If the threat or risk to life is “serious” or “real and immediate”, the state must undertake preventive measures to reduce the risk. The applicants argue that the state should cease handing out new licences for the exploration of oil and gas in order to avoid a continuous breach of their human rights.
The following were invited to intervene and submitted their written comments:
- The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights and the Environment, and on Toxics and Human Rights
- The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions
- The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ International) and ICJ Norway
- The Norwegian Grandparents’ Climate Campaign
What will happen next?
The court could ask the government to submit additional observations, ask the parties to provide additional information, decide to hold an oral hearing, refer the case to the Grand Chamber, or reach a decision on admissibility and/or the merits without oral arguments.
It is unclear when the ECtHR will conclude the case. The normal processing time is three years, but the decision may come much sooner as the case is considered a possible “impact case», which indicates that a judgment may have a significant impact on the Norwegian legal system, the European legal system, or the application of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Three other climate cases from environmentalists in Portugal, France and Switzerland are also being tried in the European Court of Human Rights, but the Norwegian case is the first and only case pertaining directly to oil drilling in light of the climate crisis.