Suing the state

This resolution was adopted at Spires Grand Meeting 2016

Spire is cooperating with a number of other environmental organisations to initiate a lawsuit against the Norwegian state for breaking of the Norwegian Constitution's article 112. The lawsuit's goal is to stop the government giving permission to look for new areas to extract oil and gas, known as “23. konsensjonsrunde.” The reason for this is the Norwegian government's decision in 2014 to open up to look for oil and gas further north than ever done before.

Article 112 in the Norwegian Constitution states that “everyone has a right to an environment that secures health, and to nature where the production ability and diversity are preserved. In occasion of the jubilee for the Constitution in 2014, this article was revised and updated, and it was, for the first time, made explicitly clear that the “state authorities shall implement measures which will carry out these maxims.” In other words, the state has a legally binding duty to protect the environment on behalf of contemporary and future generations. This creates the basis for a lawsuit against the state, where the main point is that the state is breaching its duty to protect the environment by opening up for extraction of oil and gas in an increasing amount of areas.

Climate change and vulnerable areas
The backdrop for the lawsuit is that the world community today has a direction toward a global warming of 3.5, maybe even 4 degrees warmer in 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clearly communicating that the consequences of climate change are already falling on the most vulnerable people and species in the world, and increasing temperatures will only get growing dramatic implications. It is undisputed that 80% of known fossil reserves need to stay in the ground if we want to minimize global warming to only 1,5 degrees, as stated in the Paris agreement. The Norwegian government knows the scientific facts, but this did not stop it from granting permissions to look for oil and gas in 57 new areas in the Norse Sea, Barents Sea and all the way up to the Arctic ice edge. At the same time as Norway has committed itself to climate goals through the Paris agreement, the government is carrying out a policy which is on the contrary of own climate goals. We cannot extract more oil and gas, from new areas, if we are to minimize the effects of climate change. This is where the Norwegian Constitution's article 112 comes in, which is meant to create a framework for what politicians can decide. The authorities have to secure contemporary and future generations an environment they can live in, with diversity, and this is what is being breached.

Lawsuit won in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, the organization Urgenda had a lawsuit against the state on behalf of 900 Dutch, based on the government not doing enough to stop the consequences of global warming. Rising sea levels due to climate change constitutes a huge risk in the Netherlands. The court in Haag decided in June 2015 that Dutch authorities had failed their citizens by carrying out a climate policy that would contribute to temperature rising and carry with it large environmental consequences. Here, the diligence principle was evoked, which is a legal obligation to act with certain standards of care. The difference between a lawsuit in Norway and Netherlands lays here, because in contrast, a lawsuit in Norway will not only build on the diligence principle, but also the Constitution which contains guarantees of how politicians are to act with care to nature and the environment. In other words, the question in Norway is not just whether or not customary law has been breached, but also whether legally binding Constitutional laws of the environment are being violated, rules that are supposed to give guarantees with respect to the environment in line with freedom of speech and the right to vote.

Pressure and lawsuit

If the government decides to open up for extraction of oil and gas in the new areas of the Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea and by the ice edge in the Arctic, Spire and Foreningen for Grunnloven §112 will initiate a lawsuit against the Norwegian state. However, in the first run, we will use the possibility of a lawsuit as an agent of pressure, to shot the government that the people have the Constitution backing them. We will communicate that environmental considerations is a part of the rights we have as citizens, and that politicians only can act within a legal framework which protects the basis for life of contemporary and future generations.

Spire is fighting for a more sustainable and fair world, along with the Brundtland commission's report Our Common Future, which also created the basis for the creation of the Constitution's paragraph 110b, the forerunner of paragraph 112, in 1992. We see it as our duty to fight for the state complying with its own commitments to the environment and its diversity and sustainability, which also create our basis for living. Norway has an especially large responsibility here, in a perspective of fairness, as a state that has earned and gotten rich based on extracting resources that contribute to climate change and other environmental problems. Norway has a responsibility to own citizens, following the Constitution, but taking responsibility towards own citizens inside the country will also make a difference globally, when responsible countries make an example and start reducing their production of fossil fuels and reduce emissions.