A court in Norway has delivered a key victory for climate campaigners in the fight against fossil fuel expansion, determining that the Norwegian government’s approvals of three new offshore oil and gas fields violated Norwegian and European law.
The Oslo District Court’s verdict, issued January 18, 2024, is the culmination of a legal challenge launched last year by Greenpeace Nordic and Natur og Ungdom (Young Friends of the Earth Norway) that sought to invalidate the state’s approvals of the Breidablikk, Yggdrasil and Tyrving fields in the North Sea. The environmental groups argued the government’s decision did not adequately account for the fields’ expected contribution to the climate crisis, and were illegal under the Norwegian Constitution, EU law and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Ultimately, the court agreed that the fields’ approvals were unlawful. The court’s verdict renders them invalid and prohibits the government from issuing any new permits to construct and operate the fields. Production from one of the fields, Breidablikk, had already started.
“The judgement establishes that the Breidablikk, Yggdrasil and Tyrving oil and gas fields were approved on an illegal basis and that production must be stopped immediately. We expect a halt to all further developments,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, said in a statement.
The legal challenge built upon a prior lawsuit brought by the same organizations against the government over its granting of new offshore oil licenses. While the Norwegian courts did not rule in the environmental groups’ favor, the Norwegian Supreme Court did determine that the government is obligated to consider the full climate impacts of new oil projects before granting approvals. That determination formed the basis of the new lawsuit, which claimed these climate assessments were either not done or were highly insufficient.
The Oslo District Court found that the government failed to consider the combustion emissions that would stem from new oil production even if those emissions occur outside of Norway. These emissions, the court said, are “such a significant and particularly characteristic consequence of such projects”, and they must be taken into account in order to comply with EU law and with Article 112 of the Norwegian constitution.
Additionally, the court pointed to procedural deficiencies with the approvals of the new oil fields, including a lack of opportunity for public participation.
Along with revoking the state’s approvals of the three North Sea fields, the court ordered the state to pay damages and court fees amounting to NOK 3,260,000.
The verdict comes following a trial held in late November and early December 2023, at the same time that the COP28 UN climate conference was taking place in the United Arab Emirates. “If we win, it would provide a lot of transparency about the real consequences of new oil and gas fields in Norway,” Klimentina Radkova, climate and energy adviser and legal campaigner at Greenpeace Nordic, said during a COP28 press conference hosted by Greenpeace International, appearing via video from the court in Oslo.
Nikki Reisch, climate and energy program director at the Center for International Environmental Law, noted during that press conference that new oil and gas development is inconsistent with global climate goals. “If we are to avoid foreseeable climate catastrophe there is simply no room to open up new oil and gas fields,” she said. “This case in Norway is a reminder that no matter what happens in these halls at COP, governments have existing legal duties outside and will be held accountable to them in court.”
Gytis Blaževičius, head of Natur og Ungdom, called the ruling from the Oslo District Court an “important victory for current and future generations and the environment.”
“During the trial, the State tried to diminish the impact of the emissions Breidablikk, Tyrving and Yggdrasil would have globally,” Blaževičius said. “As confirmed by the court’s decision, emissions from the oil fields would have catastrophic effects on the global climate, on people and the planet. We are pleased the oil and gas will remain untouched in the ground.”