Youth take Arctic oil to European Court

Six young climate activists, along with two major environmental organisations from Norway, are filing a historic application to bring the issue of Arctic oil drilling to the European Court of Human Rights. The environmentalists argue that, by allowing new oil drilling in the midst of a climate crisis, Norway is in breach of fundamental human rights.

“For those of us who live close to nature, the effects of climate change are already dramatic. The forests in my home region in the north of Norway support a rich ecosystem on which humans have depended for a long time. Now they are slowly dying because the shorter and milder winters are allowing invasive species to thrive. We have to take action now to limit irreversible damage to our climate and ecosystems to ensure livelihoods for the coming generations,” said Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, one of the young activists.

In 2016, the Norwegian government opened up new areas for oil drilling, further north in the Barents Sea than ever before. The six activists, alongside Greenpeace Nordic and Young Friends of the Earth Norway, hope that the European Court of Human Rights will hear their case and find that Norway’s oil expansion is in breach of human rights.

In their application called “the People vs. Arctic Oil” to the European Court, filed today, the activists argue that the law is clear:

“The allowance of new oil drilling in vulnerable areas in the Barents Sea is a violation of Articles 2 and 8 in the European Convention on Human Rights, granting me the right to be protected against decisions endangering my life and well-being. As a young person from the Sea Sámi culture, I fear the impact that climate change will have on my people’s way of life. The Sámi culture is closely related to the use of nature, and fisheries are essential. For our culture to continue without the traditional harvesting of the oceans would be impossible. A threat to our oceans is a threat to our people,” said Lasse Eriksen Bjørn, one of the activists.

For several decades, scientists have expressed concerns that greenhouse gas emissions are altering the Earth’s climate, wreaking havoc on nature and society. Even the fossil industry’s guiding light, the International Energy Agency (IEA), states that there is no room for new oil and gas projects if we are to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris agreement.

“Climate change, and the inaction of our government, is depriving me of belief in the future. Optimism and hope is all we have, but it is slowly being drained from me. Because of this, I, like many other young people, have experienced depressive periods. I’ve often had to leave the classroom when topics related to climate change were lectured, because I couldn’t bear it. It just seemed so hopeless to learn about the importance of turning off the light when the world is burning. But our application to the European Court of Human Rights is for me the manifestation of action and hope in the face of this crisis,” said Mia Chamberlain, one of the activists.

All across the world, concerned citizens are taking legal action against climate change, calling for the fossil industry and nation states to take responsibility for the emerging climate crisis. Recent legal victories against the fossil fuel giant Shell in the Netherlands and against the state in Germany and Australia are beacons of hope – these signify that change is indeed possible.

The Norwegian government has faced severe criticism from the UN and been met with massive protests for its exploration for more oil. The country recently lost its spot on the UN Human Development ranking due to its large carbon footprint from the oil industry that threatens people’s quality of life.

“The Norwegian state is gambling with my future when it opens up new areas for climate wrecking oil drilling. This is yet another case of a greedy and oil thirsty state leaving the detrimental consequences of global warming up to the future decision makers, which are today’s youth. The alarm bell has sounded. There’s not a minute to waste. I can not sit still and watch my future be ruined. We must take action and cut emissions today,” said Gina Gylver, another of the climate activists.

After three rounds in Norway’s legal system, domestic courts found that the Norwegian state did not violate Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution, which states that every person has a right to a healthy environment and that the state must implement measures to secure this right. The young activists and the environmental organisations argue that this judgment was flawed, as it discounted the significance of their environmental constitutional rights and did not take into account an accurate assessment of the consequences of climate change for the coming generations. They now hope that the European Court will find that Norway’s oil expansion is in breach of human rights.

The applicants are: Ingrid Skjoldvær (27), Gaute Eiterjord (25), Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen (23), Mia Cathryn Chamberlain (22), Lasse Eriksen Bjørn (24), Gina Gylver (20), Young Friends of the Earth Norway, and Greenpeace Nordic.

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