Climate activists are cheering after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) advanced their bid to stymie Norway’s plans for new oil and gas drilling in the Barents Sea.
The court has given the country until April 13 to defend itself, in writing, against charges that permitting such drilling in a time of climate crisis would constitute a breach of fundamental human rights, reports Bloomberg News.
The court also warned Norway that it may designate the suit an “impact” case, with implications far beyond the Scandinavian country itself. “Such a designation would substantially shorten the length of time to a ruling, which now can take as long as six years, and could provide climate activists with a new route for holding governments accountable,” explains Bloomberg.
Applicants in the case, first filed with the ECHR last June, include Greenpeace Norway, Young Friends of the Earth, and six young climate activists acting as individuals.
The applicants’ lawyer, Cathrine Hambro, called the ruling “a significant development, as just one out of 10 cases reach this point.” A judgment from the ECHR, she added, “would be important not just for Norway, but also for the pan-European application of the European Convention on Human Rights in climate cases.”
This court decision is just the latest in a string of wins in the effort to hold the feet of fossil companies and their government backers to the fire, including a “globally remarkable” move by Germany’s top court in late April 2021 to demand that national leaders finally provide a climate action plan adequate to limiting global warming.
The applicants in the Norway case are well-accustomed to policy-makers using vague language to further the fossil case. In their June petition to the ECHR, they asked the court to examine a finding by Norway’s Supreme Court that the Barents Sea permits did not contravene human rights law because they represented no “real and immediate” risk to life or limb.
The youth asked the ECHR judges to reflect particularly on the meaning of “real and immediate,” arguing that this phrase, as understood by the Supreme Court, “did not take into account an accurate assessment of the consequences of climate change for the coming generations.”