A Norway district court in Oslo ruled in favor of the Norwegian government on Thursday to allow oil companies to explore the Arctic, a region believed to hold some of the largest fossil fuel reserves in the world, according to the BBC.
The ruling defeats a lawsuit brought by environmental groups that claimed the Norwegian government was violating its constitutional mandate to provide a clean atmosphere for its citizenry.
The groups also alleged that the government was violating the Paris climate agreement, which seeks to mitigate climate change primarily by ending fossil fuel use around the world.
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The district court reviewing the case rejected these claims.
"The environmental organisations' argument that the plan violates the Constitution's Article 112 has not succeeded," the ruling said. "The state, represented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, is exonerated."
The lawsuit was brought by Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth Group and they are weighing whether to appeal the decision, according to the Daily Mail. The case was expensive, according to Greenpeace, and the court ordered the groups to pay the government’s legal fees.
“For us, it is crystal clear that the government violates the constitution,” Ingrid Skjoldvaer, head of Nature and Youth, told the Financial Times. ”Norway’s oil policy is failing my generation and threatening my future.”
Norway is Europe’s leading developer and exporter of fossil fuels after Russia. The country has been trying to explore oil fields in new regions as production declines in the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea, according to the BBC.
At the same time, Norway has voiced its broad support for the Paris climate agreement and has begun implementing policies that curb domestic emissions and protect the environment. The country has become the fastest adopter of electric vehicles and is a leading advocate for reforestation.
Environmental groups argue that these two positions — pro-oil and pro-environment — are untenable because further burning of fossil fuels could greatly damage the Earth’s environment.
“The demand for immediate action against climate change may not have been heard by the Norwegian government or courts, but every environment defender has heard the millions of people across the world who want Arctic protection,” the head of Greenpeace Norway, Truls Gulowsen, said in a statement.
“This decision should serve to shape the playbook which is being used everywhere by people taking their governments’ to court to protect their basic human right to a healthy environment,” he added.
The court argued that the government can’t be held responsible for fossil fuels that are sold to other countries.
This view runs counter to public beliefs, according to FT. For the first time ever, a poll found that a majority of Norwegians want to keep some oil in the ground.
The court’s decision allows 10 oil companies to explore the Barent Sea and the Arctic Circle, the BBC reports. The Financial Times notes that past attempts to explore in this region have failed. Statoil, for instance, failed on its exploration efforts last year.
Other countries, including Russia and the US, are eyeing oil exploration in the Arctic region.
Global Citizen campaigns to protect the Arctic from oil exploration. You can take action on this issue here.