Norway: Contributing to climate change litigation

Under Norway’s Constitution, all citizens have a right to a healthy environment. However, the oil and gas industry is central to the country’s economy and accounts for more than half its national exports.

A landmark case before the country’s Supreme Court – hearings began in November 2020 – was brought by environmental groups seeking to invalidate licenses for new oil exploration in the Arctic.

It is the first climate-change litigation to be brought under the environmental provisions in Norway’s Constitution, which were passed in 2014.

The Norwegian National Human Rights Institution prepared a comprehensive amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) submission that examined “whether the Norwegian State has violated human rights under Articles 112, 93 and 102 of the Constitution of Norway and Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).”

“Greenhouse gas emissions cause, among other things, the melting of the polar ice caps, sea level rises, droughts, landslides and extreme weather, and they may change the climatic conditions for life on Earth,” the NHRI’s submission noted.

“Climate change takes place because carbon is removed from geological reservoirs to the atmosphere in the form of CO2. In Norway, the State owns these carbon deposits beneath the sea, and extraction therefore requires government permits.

“As in the exercise of other authority, such permits must safeguard human rights norms of a higher rank under the Constitution of Norway and the ECHR. This makes production licences for oil and gas a human rights matter.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment and the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights also contributed a joint amicus curiae brief to the case.

“The conclusions reached—through the combined application of comparative constitutional law, international human rights law, and international environmental law—are that Article 112 clearly provides an enforceable, justiciable human right and that permits issued for additional petroleum exploration in Norway’s coastal waters violate this right,” their submission noted.