Norwegian Youths Sue Their Government Over Climate Change

  • Published on October 18th, 2016

Norway has a love/hate relationship with fossil fuels. On the one hand, it has plentiful oil and gas reserves which it sells to other countries. The profits go to fund much of the social programs Norway is known for. Because Norway is blessed with abundant hydroelectric power — more than 90% of its energy needs com from hydro — it doesn’t need its fossil fuel reserves for itself. That’s an enviable position for any country to be in but it doesn’t square with a commitment to fight climate change.

climate change suit in Norway

In May, the Norwegian government announced its intention to release ten production licenses to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Barents Sea. Those licenses would allow companies to extract petroleum products from parts of the Arctic never before exploited. The fact that the drilling sites are available thanks to global warming seems not to have entered the heads of Norway’s leaders.

A group of young people may have something to say about that. Led by Nature and Youth, the largest youth-led organization in Norway, and joined by Greenpeace Norway, they filed suit this week against the Norwegian government. The suit seeks to invalidate the licensing process. The plaintiffs contend the government is violating their constitutional right to a healthy environment by allowing companies to drill for oil in the Arctic Barents Sea.

“Signing [the Paris climate agreement] while throwing open the door to Arctic oil drilling is a dangerous act of hypocrisy,” Truls Gulowsen, head of Greenpeace Norway, said in an emailed statement. “By allowing oil companies to drill in the Arctic, Norway risks undermining global efforts to address climate change. When the government fails to redress this we have to do what we can to stop it.”

The youths allege that allowing companies to extract oil and gas from the Arctic is contrary to Norway’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement. That agreement says that the signatory nations will limit global warming to a maximum of 2° C. by leaving the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Young people filing suit against governments they say are not protecting them from the ravages of climate change. Does that sound familiar? It should. In the US, a group called Our Children’s Trust has helped young people to bring similar suits against the governments of all 50 states and the federal government. In each instance, the young plaintiffs argue that ineffective climate policy and the subsidization of fossil fuels are endangering future generations and depriving them of their constitutional right to a clean atmosphere and environment.

The suits in the states of Washington and Massachusetts have already been successful. Local courts have ordered state authorities to ramp up climate change protections as requested by the plaintiffs. A federal magistrate in Oregon denied a motion to dismiss filed by fossil fuel interests last spring. Another federal judge is set to rule on whether the case can proceed to trial next month.

Dr. James Hansen, former NASA scientist turned climate change activist, is one of the plaintiffs in the federal law suit. So is his granddaughter. Hansen made headlines last week when he claimed that it is already too late to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2° C.

“Youth are rising up globally and taking their governments to court to seek protection of their inalienable rights to a stable climate system,” Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust and lead counsel on the federal lawsuit, said in a statement. “This case filed today in Norway builds on similar cases brought by young people in Sweden, Pakistan, Uganda, the Philippines, and in states across the U.S. This youth legal movement is growing.”

That’s good, because government leaders are merely paying lip service to climate change or actively opposing any efforts to mitigate the damage from global warming. The problem is especially bad in the US where fossil fuel interests are bitterly opposed to any and all government action to clean up carbon emissions. We can thank the Koch Brothers and their allies for putting profits over people and using their financial resources to influence members of Congress to support their quest for more and more profits created by extracting fossil fuels from the earth.

It may surprise people to learn that 60% of all Americans are represented in Congress by a climate change denier thanks to the efforts of Charles and David Koch among others. It may take legal actions brought by the youngest members of society to break the stranglehold the fossil fuel industries currently enjoy in governments around the world.

Here’s another thought. Refuse to vote for any candidate who does not support aggressive action to address climate change. It’s long past time to remove climate change deniers from positions of power. There are few things one person can do to change the world but voting responsibly is one of them.

Source:  Think Progress


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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.