When the Norwegian government decided to grant licenses to open up new areas of the Arctic for oil drilling just days after signing the Paris Agreement, we could not stand still. We opposed the opening of these new areas by sending letters to the companies posed to drill and to the Norwegian government, informing them that these licenses violated the Norwegian Constitutional right to a healthy environment and contravened the commitments Norway made under the Paris Agreement. When the government decided to go ahead with drilling anyway, we took a Greenpeace ship to the Norwegian Arctic to protest this action. Ultimately, we decided to bring this issue before the Norwegian courts.
Today, we will start the People v. Arctic Oil trial. Together with Nature and Youth and with the Grandparents Climate Campaign intervening on our side, we will finally face the Norwegian government for these actions.
As you may have heard, Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution places on the Norwegian government a duty to protect people’s right to a healthy environment and safeguard this right for future generations as well.
A Constitution typically contains the highest law in the land. This means that a government must not infringe on the rights embodied in the constitution. Throughout the trial, we will present to the court evidence that in opening up these new areas for drilling, the Norwegian government is placing the Arctic and our climate at risk to such a degree that it rises to the level of a violation under the Norwegian Constitution.
Dr. David Boyd, a leading expert on environmental law, conducted a study on the right to a healthy environment in constitutions around the world. His research found that around 90 countries have the right to a healthy environment as a constitutional right. Interestingly, Dr. Boyd’s study found that this right is enforceable by the courts. Only in the rare occasion that the constitution itself contains explicit restrictions, is the right not enforceable. This is not the case in Norway. Boyd’s study also concluded that the only instances when a constitutional right to a healthy environment has not lead to any protections, is when the country is plagued by rule of law issues, poverty, war or an authoritarian government. None of these instances apply to Norway.
When 197 countries signed the Paris Agreement, Norway as a developed nation committed itself to take the lead combating climate change. In the Paris agreement, the world agreed to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5C or well below 2C compared to pre-industrial levels. We have agreed to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. How is opening these new areas in the Arctic for drilling compatible with the duty of the Norwegian State to uphold the right to a healthy environment – particularly in the context of the latest science and commitments the government has made under Paris?
We are asking the Norwegian Court to find that it is not.
And we are not asking this alone, we have hundreds of thousands of supporters around the world. We are not going just for ourselves, we are doing this also for future generations - in my case, for Blythe, my niece who at 14 months has the right to live a full life in a healthy environment.
Today is the first time that this right, the Constitutional right to a healthy environment, will be invoked in a Norwegian courtroom. If a Constitution is the "mirror of a nation's soul", then we expect the Courts to be the light that allows us to see that reflection.
- Michelle Jonker-Argueta
Greenpeace International Legal Unit staff member.