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Norway’s top court rejects climate challenge to Arctic oil exploration

Norway's Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a challenge from environmental groups trying to stop oil exploration in the Arctic, after a historic battle over the country's climate change commitments.

Norway's top court rejects climate challenge to Arctic oil exploration
File photo: AFP

By a vote of 11 to four, the top court rejected the argument of two organisations — Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth Norway — which said that the granting of 10 oil exploration licences in the Barents Sea in 2016 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 argued that the oil licenses violated article 112 of Norway's constitution, guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy environment.

Their claims have already been rejected in two instances and hopes were finally dashed by the Supreme Court, which delivered the verdict by videoconference.

The majority of the court did agree with the activists that article 112 could be invoked if the state failed to meet its climate and environmental obligations — but 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.

“We are outraged with this judgement, which leaves youth and future generations without constitutional protection,” Therese Hugstmyr Woie, head of Young Friends of the Earth Norway, said in a statement.

“The Supreme Court chooses loyalty to Norwegian oil over our rights to a liveable future,” she added.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Greenpeace had floated the idea of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The group has described the case as a “historical” one that could influence the future oil policy of Norway, the biggest producer of hydrocarbons in Western Europe.

This case also follows a global trend that sees climate change increasingly appearing in court cases.

In the Netherlands in 2019, the state was ordered to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent before 2020 after a case was brought to the country's highest court by the environmental group Urgenda.

READ ALSO: Norway oil licensing round 'insanely irresponsible': green group

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ENVIRONMENT

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.

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