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About The People vs. Arctic Oil

This lawsuit is Norway’s first climate lawsuit. It concerns ten new licenses for oil exploration in the Barents sea, which were granted by the Norwegian government in June 2016.


In October 2016 Greenpeace and Nature and Youth (Young Friends of the Earth Norway) sued the Norwegian state for granting these licenses for areas further north and further east than ever before. The Grandparents’ Climate Movement and the Norwegian Association for the Preservation of Nature (Naturvernforbundet) have later joined the lawsuit as third party interveners. The lawsuit also has the support of a broad coalition of individuals and organisations.


The first round of the lawsuit was presented to the court in November 2017. The plaintiff did not win through on their main argument that ten new oil exploration permits in the Barents sea are a breach of the Norwegian Constitution’s §112. However, the judge concluded that the paragraph is indeed a rights provision article, and that climate is included in the provision. The environmental organisations then appealed the decision, and the case came before the appeal court in November 2019. The organisations did not win support for their claim that the decision to grant permits through the 23. round of concessions is a breach of the consitutional article 112. The judgement nevertheless gave the organisation important partial victories, such as the ruling that the article is a provision of rights. In addition, the judgement concluded that Norway also has  a responsibility for emissions from the oil that it exports to other countries.


The case has been appealed to the Norwegian Supreme Court and is expected to be heard in 2020.

Aerial view of oil rig West Hercules and Greenpeace inflatable boat during a peaceful protest.
Activists from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany climb the oil rig West Hercules, located near Rypefjord village in the north of Norway. While a growing movement calling for real action on climate change is happening all over the world, Equinor’s rig is preparing for a season of oil drilling in the Arctic waters of the Barents Sea.


The environmental organisations argue that the granting of new utvinningstillatelser for oil dilling in the arctic is in violation of article 112 of the norwegian constitution , which is to secure the right to a livable climate for us and future generations.


The article declares that citizens have the right to “An environment that secures good health, and to nature where diversity and productive capacity are conserved”, and that the state must take measures to ensure these rights. In addition, according to the article, natural resources should be managed with a long term and all round considerations which secure this right also for future generations.


The granted permits pave the way for new oil discovery and oil extraction from new areas despite the fact that burning of the already discovered petroleum resources will result in global warming beyond the agreed target of 1,5 degrees.


Norway has signed the Paris Agreement, and we have thereby commited ourselves to keep global warming below this 1,5 target. In september 2015, the UN member countries agreed on 17 targets for sustainable development towards 2030. The UN development goals among other things ask countries to act immediately to stop climate change and to fight its consequences.


Since the first verdict in this case was passed, the UN IPCC has published three new reports which further strengthen the already serious consequences of not reaching the paris agreement targets, and reserch shows that emissions must be halved within ten years. The world is already experiencing the consequences of climate change, with more extreme weather events, rising sea levels and less arctic ice.

Norway is the worlds 7th largest exporter of CO2


An unprecedented legal case is filed against the Norwegian government for allowing oil companies to drill for new oil in the Arctic Barents Sea. The plaintiffs, Nature and Youth and Greenpeace Nordic, argue that Norway thereby violates the Paris Agreement and the people’s constitutional right to a healthy and safe environment for future generations. The lawsuit has the support of a wide group of scientists, indigenous leaders, activists and public figures.

Other climate lawsuits

Around 90 other countries have similar constitutions which explicitly acknowledge the right to a healthy environmnet. There are more than 600 lawsuits worldwide where individuals and NGOs have sued because their rights are being affected by the climate crisis.


In the socalled Urgenda-case in the Netherlands, the plaintiffs won through with their lawsuit in the supreme court. The judgement arrived on 20th december 2019 and concluded that the government must impose measures to stop a climate crisis. The state was ordered to cut emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020. The judgement is supported by article 2 and 8 of the declaration of human rights, the right to life and to privacy.


A judgement from New South Wales in Australia concerns a controversial permit for the coal company “Gloucester Resources v. Minister for Planning” . The judgement concludes that the consequence of the emissions from the burning of coal is the responsibility of the producing country, and that the coal mine will not have its licence continued as it is not in agreement with the global carbon budget.


in February 2020, an appeal court in England concluded that the building of a 3rd runway at Heathrow Airport in London is illegal as it has not included the Paris Agreement in its planning. This is the first time the Paris Agreement has been used to stop planned carbon emissions. Friends of the Earth, local authorities in London and a range of other organisations are behind this lawsuit.


All these jugdements are based on the fact that new emissions will not be in agreement with the global carbon budget, or the amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere within the Paris Agreement target of no more than 1,5 degree warming. These jugdements will be relevant for judges of the Supreme Court in the Norwegian climate lawsuit.

In a peaceful protest Greenpeace activists from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany climb the oil rig West Hercules, located near Rypefjord village in the north of Norway. Other activists on kayaks hold banners calling for an end to Arctic oil drilling. While a growing movement calling for real action on climate change is happening all over the world, Equinor’s rig is preparing for a season of oil drilling in the Arctic waters of the Barents Sea.

International interest: 

The lawsuit has raised debates and  brought the question of continued oil exploitation and the need for transition to a new level of political relevance in Norway. It has engaged many new voices in the climate debate, including many lawyers.


The lawsuit has also received widespread media coverage and gained many strong supporters. Greta Thunberg, Lenardo DiCaprio, Emma Thompson, Jostein Gaarder and Karl Ove Knausgård are among those who have shown support for the lawsuit and say no to new oil exploitation in the Barents sea.


TCurrently, the nuber of Norwegians who want to keep the oil in the seabed is greater than those who do not want to limit oil exploitation. The political pressure to stop oil and gas exploration is thus strengthened.


Many thousands of donors have contributed to funding the lawsuit. The first crowdfunding campaign in  the autumn of 2016 won a prize for successful crowdfunding.


The lawsuit has also inspired artists. Morten Traavik’s spectacular theater project “the Trial of the Century”, a lawsuit on oil exploitation in the Barents sea enacted in an ice amphitheater in 2017 won the Critics Association theater critic award for 2016/2017.


Representatives from other countries have also spoken up and got involved. FNs special reporter for environment and human rights, David Boyd, has harshly criticized Norwegian oil policy after visiting last year. Samu Kuridrani from Fiji has also criticized Norway for continuing to look for more oil while his own country is already experiencing the effects of climate change. “I get angry when I hear that you continue to searc hfor more oil. Those of us that live in the Pacific are living with climate change, and continuing oil exploitation will drown us.”




  • April: Norway signs the Paris agreement
  • May: The Norwegian government offers ten new oil exploitation permits through the 23. round of concessions
  • June: the government awards ten new oil licences. Norway ratifies the Paris agreement
  • October: Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom (Young Friends of the Earth Norway) sue the Norwegian state.


  • February: Oslo District Court announces the court date
  • July: Besteforeldrenes Klimaaksjon (The Grandparents Climate Campaign) join the lawsuit as third party interveners
  • November: The climate lawsuit starts in Oslo District Court



  • January: Oslo District Court delivers its judgement.
  • February: Natur og Ungdom and Greenpeace appeal the court decision, and request a direct appeal to the supreme court.
  • April: Direct appeal to the Supreme Court is declined, and the case is sent to Borgarting Appeal Court


  • August: Friends of the Earth Norway (Naturvernforbundet, the Norwegian Association for the Conservation of Nature) join the lawsuit as third party interveners
  • November :The appeal court proceedings begin



  • January: Borgarting Appeal Court delivers its judgement
  • February: The plaintiffs appeal to the Supreme Court
  • April: The Supreme Court announces that it will hear an appeal