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The People versus Arctic Oil litigation, Norway


Greenpeace together with the Norwegian group Nature and Youth (Natur og Ungdom) have taken the Norwegian government to court over their decision to open up areas of the Arctic Ocean for oil exploration. They are basing their legal claims on Section 112 of the Norwegian constitution which gives the right to a healthy environment, as well as the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

In May 2016, the Norwegian government issued 10 licenses to 13 companies for the exploration of oil and gas in the Barents Sea, above the Arctic Circle [1]. A continued pursuit of the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels implies continued emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. Drilling in the Arctic sea would also pose a serious risk to the marine environment in the case of an oil spill, and the extreme conditions would make a cleanup operation challenging to manage [2].

As the plaintiffs claim, this commitment to contributing to climate change and risking the environment  is a violation of Section 112 of the Norwegian constitution; this is the first time this high level law has been tested in court. The law states: “Everyone has the right to an environment that safeguards their health and to nature where production ability and diversity are preserved. Natural resources must be managed from a long-term and versatile consideration which also upholds this right for future generations”. §112  was carved into a five tonne block of ice which was placed outside the court by Greenpeace on the first day of the trial (14/11/2017). 

The plaintiffs (from Greenpeace, Nature and Youth and Grandparents Climate Campaign) claim Arctic drilling will not only violate this law, but also constitutes climate injustice as further contributions of greenhouse gases from oil combustion will exacerbate climate change and put communities around the world at greater risk. Norway’s decision to issue the licenses  in the Barents Sea- for the first time in twenty years [1] - came just one month after they signed the Paris Agreement. Norway was the first developed country to ratify the agreement, just ten days after this licensing round [3]. 

Following the science presented by the IPCC, the Paris Agreement requires countries to pledge to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C  or “well below” 2°C compared with pre-industrial times. As Greenpeace states, there are already more known sources of fossil fuels than can be burnt to keep within the carbon budget set by the Paris Agreement, hence exploring for Arctic oil is not in keeping with Norway’s commitment [4]

Pacific Islanders, already affected by climate change, were amongst those testifying at the court case in Oslo. The case has also received support from scientists, lawyers and activists [5], and an online petition has thus far gathered the support of over 522,200  people which has also been presented as evidence in court [6]. During the court case Arctic drilling was also presented as a human rights issue, and a UN Committee called upon Norway to revise its policy on Arctic oil drilling on the basis that that climate change disproportionately affects women [7] . While the trial was underway, the Norwegian Oil Fund and the Norwegian Central bank (Norges Bank) - the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world - asked the Government for permission to divest more than 35 billion USD from oil and gas to “make the government’s wealth less vulnerable”, signalling expert support for the economic uncertainty of fossil fuels [8] . 

Ingrid Skjoldvær, Head of Nature and Youth, comments: "If we lose, the Norwegian state will continue to drill for oil in the Arctic. This will lead to more climate change and an uncertain future for young people today, and those who come after us. Our hope is that the court will both cancel the oil licenses awarded in the 23rd licensing round and ensure that the Norwegian government start to assess the climate change consequences of distributing new oil licenses." [9] 

On January 4th 2018 the Court reached a decision, finding the Norwegian government not responsible for breaching the Constitution. However, the Court found that the right to a healthy environment is protected by the Constitution and the Government must uphold those rights.  [10] The groups may consider an appeal.

Timeline [6]

April 2016 - Norway signs the Paris Agreement and promises to help limit climate change

May 2016 - The Norwegian government hands out new oil licenses in the Arctic

August 2016 - Norwegian state-owned Statoil announces a massive drilling campaign

October 2016 - Greenpeace and Nature and Youth hand in lawsuit against the Norwegian government

July 2017 - Greenpeace ship is present in the Barents sea for the drilling season

November 2017 - Trial begins. Names and witness statement are submitted as evidence in Court

January 2018 - Court challenge defeated

Basic Data

Name of conflict:The People versus Arctic Oil litigation, Norway
Location of conflict:Barents Sea
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

On the 18th May 2016, the Government of Norway resolved to offer 13 companies ten production licenses for oil and gas in the 23rd licensing round. The production licenses were awarded by Order in Council on the 10th June 2016 (Licensing Decision). For the first time in more than 20 years, Norway opened new acreage to the oil and gas industry in the Arctic Barents Sea. Ten days later, on the 20th June 2016, Norway became the first developed country to ratify the Paris Agreement, which enters into force on the 4th November 2016. The licensing round covers parts of the Barents Sea, and will open up petroleum production in more northerly and easterly areas than in the past. The licensing round thus establishes production in an area with very little existing infrastructure and partly in an area that has never before been explored. [9]

In the northern part of the Barents Sea, not yet open for exploration, there are undiscovered resources estimated at 1.4 billion cubic metres (8.6 billion barrels) of oil equivalents, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate has said. [11].

The 13 oil companies that have new license blocks in the Barents Sea, and would be affected by the verdict, are: Statoil (Norway), Capricorn, Tullow and Centrica (UK), Chevron and ConocoPhillips (USA), DEA (Germany), Aker BP (Norway), Idemitsu (Japan), Lukoil (Russia), Lundin Petroleum (Sweden), OMV (Austria), PGNiG (Norway/Poland)

Project area:40,000
Type of populationUnknown
Start of the conflict:01/10/2016
Company names or state enterprises:Statoil from Norway
Tullow Oil Plc from United Kingdom
Chevron from United States of America
Aker BioMarine from Norway
Capricorn from United Kingdom
Centrica from United Kingdom
ConocoPhillips Alaska from United States of America
DEA from Germany
Idemitsu from Japan
Lukoil from Russian Federation
Lundin Petroleum from Sweden
OMV from Austria
PGNIG from Norway
Statoil from Norway
Relevant government actors:The Government of Norway represented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy
International and Finance InstitutionsNorges Bank from Norway
Statens pensjonsfond from Norway
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace -
Natur og Ungdom -
Norwegian Grandparents' Climate CAmpaign -

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Oil spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although an important and inspiring step for climate litigation and climate justice activists, the court did not rule against oil drilling in the Arctic.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Norway's Constitution of 1814 with Amendments through 2014

Paris Agreement

[7]THE WAVE IS ROLLING! (Greencaster)


[6] We’re taking Arctic oil to Court (Greenpeace)

[9] The People vs Arctic Oil: Historic climate trial ends (Greenpeace)

[4] Norway oil: Environmentalists sue over oil exploration (BBC)

[5] This is The People vs. Arctic Oil (Greenpeace)

Decision made in case against Arctic Oil in Norway: Right to a healthy environment acknowledged (Greenpeace)

Norway must prepare for Arctic oil race with Russia (Reuters)

[3] The People vs. Arctic Oil; “The Arctic is Ground Zero for Climate Change.” (Greenpeace)

[1] Thirteen companies are offered ten production licences in the 23rd licensing round (Norwegian Petroleum Directorate)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[2] The Sun and the Darkness – Unburnable Episode #2 (Podcast)

Other documents

Greenpeace Activists (Photo: Greenpeace) Greenpeace support the case, raising awareness in the Barents Sea during drilling season

Meta information

Contributor:Alice Owen [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019



Activists take the Norwegian Government to Court (Photo: Christian Åslund / Greenpeace)

Representatives of Nature and Youth, Greenpeace, Indigenous Organisations and Climate Science unite

Article 112 (Photo: Friends of the Earth)

Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution, which includes the right to a healthy environment, was carved into a block of ice and placed outside the court.