OSLO, Jan 23 — An Oslo appeals court approved Norway’s plans for more oil exploration in the Arctic today, dismissing a lawsuit by environmentalists who had said it violated people’s right to a healthy environment.
The verdict upheld a ruling made by a lower court, rejecting arguments by Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth group that a 2015-2016 oil licensing round that gave awards to Equinor and others had breached Norway’s constitution.
“The verdict is unanimous,” the Borgarting Appeals Court said in its written decision.
Greenpeace immediately said it would appeal the case to Norway’s supreme court.
The lawsuit is seen as part of an emerging branch of law worldwide where plaintiffs seek to use a nation’s founding principles to make the case for curbing emissions.
The green groups argued the government decision contravened local and international law. They cited article 112 of Norway’s constitution, which guarantees the right of current and future generations to a healthy and sustainable environment, as well as the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming.
Oil and gas extraction have helped make Norway one of the wealthiest nations on earth, with the third-highest per-capita gross domestic product and a US$1.1 trillion sovereign wealth fund stemming from petroleum income.
The government handed out 10 Arctic exploration permits in the contested 23rd licensing round, including three in the southeastern part of the Barents Sea, near Norway’s border with Russia.
Norway’s energy ministry welcomed the verdict.
“The court agrees with the state that the Barents Sea petroleum activity does not contravene the constitution,” the ministry said in a statement.
Oil companies have already drilled exploration wells in some licences, but have not made any significant discoveries.
Aker BP plans to drill a well in one licence later this year.
A win at the appeals court could have set a precedent for other climate cases globally, while limiting exploration by western Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer, the plaintiffs said at the outset of the trial.
But while environmental groups said more petroleum resources had already been discovered than could be exploited without breaching the Paris goals, the government argued that any decision to drill was for parliament to make, not the courts. — Reuters