Norway oil licensing round ‘insanely irresponsible’: green group

Norway's oil ministry has proposed licensing off 136 new exploration blocks in the Barents and Norwegian Seas, in a move criticised as "insanely irresponsible" by environmentalists.

Norway oil licensing round 'insanely irresponsible': green group
Most of the blocks are in the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. Photo: Norwegian Petroleum Directorate
Announcing the new exploration round, Norway's minister for petroleum and energy, Tine Bru, said that such licensing rounds were “pillars of petroleum policy”, without which activity in the Norwegian oil industry would grind to a halt. 
“Regular access to new exploration areas is crucial to maintaining activity on the Norwegian continental shelf,” she said.  
“We need new discoveries to maintain employment and value creation going forward. I have good faith that the opportunities we now offer in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea will be attractive to companies.” 
Silje Lundberg, Chairman of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature, said that issuing new licenses made no sense when the world cannot afford to use even the oil and gas reserves that have already been discovered. 
“The government's oil policy is so insanely irresponsible that it is difficult to find words,” she wrote in a press release. 
“With this, the government is emphatically showing that neither climate nor vulnerable nature will put any restrictions on Norwegian oil policy. The time is long past when new exploration rounds should be dropped and instead energy put into achieving the change Norway and the world needs.” 
The new licensing round comes after Norway's political parties agreed to new rules over the so-called 'ice edge' that defines how far north in the Arctic oil and gas companies can operate. 

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NGOs take Norway to European Court over Arctic oil exploration

Two NGOs and six young climate activists have decided to take Norway to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to demand the cancellation of oil permits in the Arctic, Greenpeace announced on Tuesday.

NGOs take Norway to European Court over Arctic oil exploration
Northern Norway. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash.

It’s the latest turn in a legal tussle between environmental organisations Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth Norway on one side and the Norwegian state on the other.

The organisations are demanding the government cancel 10 oil exploration licenses in the Barents Sea awarded in 2016, arguing it was unconstitutional.

Referring to the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the organisations claim that the oil licenses violated article 112 of Norway’s constitution, guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy environment.”

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,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

In December, Norway’s Supreme Court rejected the claim brought by the organisations, their third successive legal defeat.

READ MORE: Norway sees oil in its future despite IEA’s warnings 

While most of the judges on the court agreed that article 112 could be invoked if the state failed to meet its climate and environmental obligations– they did not think it was applicable in this case.

The court also held that the granting of oil permits was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, in part because they did not represent “a real and immediate risk” to life and physical integrity.

“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,” Greenpeace said.

On Friday, the Norwegian government unveiled a white paper on the country’s energy future, which still includes oil exploration despite a warning from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA recently warned that all future fossil fuel projects must be scrapped if the world is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Norwegian case is an example of a global trend in which climate activists are increasingly turning to courts to pursue their agenda.