Judgment day in Norwegian climate case: The State won, the decision to award oil & gas production licenses was valid and environmental organisations must pay legal costs (4 January 2018)
The Oslo District Court has today, 4 January 2018, delivered its judgment in the case concerning the validity of decision awarding oil and gas production licenses in the Arctic waters of Norway, in the Barents Sea.
What is the case about
The case is about the validity of the decision taken by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and validated by the King in Council on 10 June 2016, to award petroleum production licenses as part of the 23rd licensing round in an area close to the ice edge in the South East of the Barents Sea. This happened after that the ice edge line was moved further North and the opening of new areas int eh Barent Sea in 2013 in that region.
The plantiffs are two environmental organisations, GreenPeace Norway and Natur and Ungdom, who submitted that the decission was illegal on two grounds:
- the new provision of §112 of the Norwegian Constitution (environment provision) was breached;
- the decision was unfounded and breached administrative law procedural requirements by an incomplete impact assessment.
In its decision, the Oslo District Court dimissed the two pledges, but recognises that the Constitution does provide some individual rights which could have been infringed in other circumstances.
In short, the Court provides a first interpretation of the new environmental provision of the Constitution, and concludes that §112 is meant to provide individual rights. However, the attacked decision did not breach those rights and so, the Constitution. According to the Court, "The risk for (traditional) environmental damage and climate deterioration as a consequence of that decision are limited, and remedial actions are sufficient."
Then, the Court comes to the conclusion that there is no breach of the assessment duty (utredningsplikt), which could, under Norwegian administrative law, entail the invalidity of the decision. There is not either any wrongfullness in the facts the decision builds on, and which could lead to an invalid decision. The Court also found that the decision is substantiated in a complete manner.
On these grounds, the Court rejects the plaintiffs' claims, on both grounds.
The Oslo Court also ordered the environmental Groups to pay legal costs to the state (NOK 580,000).
Political decisions must be taken by decision-makers, not Courts and should not be reviewed by Courts
As to the scope of the judgement, one paragraph of the decision comments the political sides of the case. Namely, the judge precises that he will not cover all the arguments raised by the plaintiffs, which will go beyond what should be reviewed by the Court. The case deals with the validity of the above-mentionned decision, and not about the opening of the South-East part of the Barents Sea or Norwegian climate and environmental policy in general. He adds that "whether Norway does enough for climate and the environment, and whether it was reasonible to open areas so far up North and East, are questions which are better addressed and answered through political processes that judicial Courts are unfit to review" (non official translation).
Previous media covered and interviews
This post is a first rapid comment to the decision. Below follows some previous interviews I gave on this case to different international media :
- "Arctic Oil Drilling Under Attack as Norway Dragged to Court", Bloomberg, 12.11.2017 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-12/oil-drilling-in-arctic-under-attack-as-norway-dragged-to-court
- "El Ártico pide justicia", La Vanguardia, 15.11.2017 http://www.lavanguardia.com/natural/20171115/432893554222/artico-demanda-noruega-prospecciones-petroleras.html
- Live interview: Money Talks: "Environmentalists sue Norway over illegal oil drilling", TRT World News (Youtube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkvFwFPKLSM
Full text of the judgment is accessible here (in Norwegian):