Norway’s Supreme Court Begins Hearing Important Climate Case

While most of the attention may be directed to the United States and the fingernail biting ongoing vote counting, the Norwegian Supreme Court (Norges Høyesterett) began hearing what is thought to be an incredibly important climate change case. The Norwegian Constitution ensures that all citizens have the right to a healthy environment. Using that provision, Nature and Youth Norway and Greenpeace Norden, along with third-party interveners the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature and the Grandparents Climate Campaign, brought action against the State as represented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy for the administrative decision to grant production licenses for petroleum in the Barents Sea. The hearings are scheduled to run from November 4 through November 12.

The case is on appeal from the Borgarting Court. That court determined that the decision to grant the licenses did not breach Section 112 of the Norwegian Constitution, which guarantees the right to a healthy environment, since many measures have been taken to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases, and the emissions related to the extraction of petroleum from the Barents Sea is covered by the EU quota scheme. The court also found that the threshold for proving violation of Section 112 is very high and the risk of local environmental damage from the extraction activities is too low to count as a violation of Section 112.

Interestingly, the case in the Supreme Court is being heard by a plenary court. Most cases are heard by five justices. Only under “extraordinary circumstances” is a case held by the plenary. Since the central issue of the case is whether the actions of the Ministry in granting the licenses violates Section 112 of the Constitution, the case is being heard by the plenary.

Since Norway’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports, this is an important case from both an environmental perspective, and the perspective of the government. Therefore, a finding for the environmentalists would have a great impact on the Norwegian economy.

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