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Authors: Bhavya Sharma and Rama Raman, IV year of B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) from Chanakya National Law University, Patna

Norway serves as a role model for countries throughout the world for its green economy. It derives 97 percent of its energy from hydropower[i] and has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030.[ii] It also ranks 9th out of 180 countries on the environmental performance index[iii] and since 2007, it has allocated up to NOK 3 billion to REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries).[iv] It's capital Oslo emerged as the winner of the 2019 European Green Capital for its climate change goals, public transportation infrastructure, and circular green innovations.[v]

However, this green profile of the country is in stark contrast to the recent ruling of Norwegian SC in People v Arctic Oil[vi]that has once again sparked the controversy surrounding what is known as the great Norwegian paradox. The case was filed in 2016 by two environmental organisations Greenpeace and Nature and Youth (Young Friends of Norway) to negate the ten new licenses for oil exploration in the Barents Sea granted by the Norwegian government.

It was argued that the new oil exploration permits violate article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution which provides for the right to an environment that is conducive to health and to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are to be maintained. It was also contended that it violated articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

11 of the 15-judge panel of the SC of Norway by majority ruled in favour of the government and concluded that parliament and the government had broad authority to award new oil acreage. Therefore, the permits do not violate article 112 of the constitution.[vii]Following the judgment, the government has announced plans for another round of Arctic licensing awards.[viii]

This is what is known as the great Norwegian Paradox. The Norwegian paradox deals with the two conflicting policies of the Norwegian government. The first policy deals with sustainable development within the state whereby it is concerned with reducing its reliance on fossil fuels to lower its greenhouse emission as an effort to ultimately lower the global carbon emission. The second policy deals with the exploration and exportation of oil to other countries that ultimately result in increased greenhouse emissions on the planet. In easier words, while Norway’s first policy is trying to reduce greenhouse emissions, its second policy is responsible for increased emissions on the global level.

It is not the first time that the state’s conflicting policies have become the subject matter of debate. Its parliament by the broad majority has repeatedly rejected proposals to end Norwegian oil extraction.[ix] Therefore, while Norway is projecting to be the global leader in sustainable development, it is also responsible for increasingly pumping climate-wrecking fossil fuels into the earth’s atmosphere. It wants to lead the world in the fight against climate change but is also facilitating it at the same time.

Failure Of The International Legal Regime

The current international environmental legal regime is responsible for facilitating the paradox as it fails to make the States accountable for the carbon emissions caused due to their actions outside the country. For instance, let’s consider the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement that are significant breakthroughs in the field of climate change. The Kyoto Protocol[x] mandates the State to ensure that their anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases do not exceed their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments. Similarly, the Paris Agreement[xi]demands the parties to prepare, communicate and undertake ambitious efforts to achieve the nationally determined contributions (NDC) as a global response to climate change. Both of these documents take into account the territorial emissions but not exported emissions. The system doesn’t hold the oil-producing states responsible for pumping fossil fuels into the Earth’s atmosphere. As a result, these international agreements have merely become a mechanism of shifting blame rather than a tool for concerted global action towards climate change.

Obligation To Act

The concept of responsibility runs parallel to the question of the obligation to act. Critics may argue that the obligation to act should be upon the countries burning the fuel rather than the ones producing. However, that has been an argument for producers of many harmful products, one of the most well-documented of which involves tobacco. For years, the tobacco industry successfully shied away from its responsibility by shifting its responsibility for negative side effects of consuming tobacco upon the smokers who they argued were consuming the products by choice and thus any illness suffered as a consequence thereof was their responsibility. However, the argument was rejected later as the evidence of the harms of tobacco became increasingly known and it was recognised that manufacturing the product that killed people, even if legal, was morally problematic.[xii]

This holds for the fossil fuel industry too. Global warming is already responsible for some 150,000 deaths each year around the world, and there is a fear that the number may well double by 2030 even if we start getting serious about emissions reductions today.[xiii] Besides killing people, researchers claim that global warming also contributes to some five million human illnesses every year.[xiv]Over the past few years, there has been an increasing sense of awareness regarding the extent of harms caused by the usage of fossil fuels too. Oil-producing states are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility for playing a part in the damage caused to mankind and the planet due to the usage of a product that they are guilty of extracting and exporting.

Though the Appeals court in People v Arctic Oil ruled in favour of the government, it also acknowledged the state’s responsibility for emissions from the oil that it exports to other countries.[xv] Acknowledging its role as a producer state, France in 2017 took a historic step as it became the first country in the world to phase out exploration and production of oil on its mainland and overseas territories by 2040.[xvi] Denmark, which is the largest oil producer in the European Union, also acknowledged its role as it decided to stop offering new licenses in the North Sea and phase out production altogether in 2050.[xvii] Similar actions have been taken by New Zealand, Ireland, Belize, and Costa Rica.[xviii] Recently, Joe Biden, President Of United States also resonated with these countries and expressed his commitment towards a greener future as he directed the secretary of the Interior Department to halt new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and water and begin a thorough review of existing permits for fossil fuel development.[xix]

Concluding Remarks

Climate change is affecting each country on the planet. With the hotter heat waves, drier droughts, bigger storm surges, and greater snowfall, the entire world is experiencing unprecedented weather patterns. The need for a global concerted action to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change is more urgent than ever. The Norwegian paradox highlights the shortcomings of the current legal framework on climate change that has reduced to a position of being a tool merely to shift the blame. Taking steps towards sustainable development within the limits of national boundaries isn’t enough at this hour. Oil-producing states like Norway have to step-up and realise that they have a greater responsibility towards the planet even when it involves economic considerations. There is a requirement for a complete embargo on the extraction of fossil fuel. Few countries have led the way and it’s the need of the hour that the others resonate with them for a greener future.

[i] Matt Carroll, Norway’s leading the charge on a sustainable electric future, National Geographic(Mar. 7, 2021, 7:15 P.M.),

[ii]Norway: Carbon-neutral as soon as 2030, Nordic Energy Research (Mar. 7, 2021, 7:30 P.M.),

[iii]2020 EPI Results, Environmental Performance Index(Mar. 7, 2021, 8:05 P.M.),

[iv]Climate change and the environment, Norway in Kyrgyzstan: Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mar. 7, 2021, 10:35 P.M.)

[v]Oslo starts its year as European Green Capital 2019, European Commission(Mar. 7, 2021, 10:45 P.M.),

[vi]Greenpeace Nordic Ass’n v. Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, HR-2020-2472-P.


[viii]Nerijus Adomaitis, Norway supreme court verdict opens Arctic to more oil drilling, Reuters (Mar. 8, 2021, 11:20 A.M.),

[ix]Norway supreme court verdict opens Arctic to more oil drilling, CBC(Mar. 8, 2021, 11:35 A.M.),

[x]Art. 3, Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 10, 1997, 2303 U.N.T.S. 162.

[xi]Art. 3 & 4, Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104.

[xii]P.C. Frumhoffet al., The climate responsibilities of industrial carbon producers, Climatic Change 132, 157–171 (2015).

[xiii]World Health Organisation, Climate change and human health: Risks and responses 276 (A.J. McMichael et al. eds., 2003).

[xiv]The Impact of Global Warming on Human Fatality Rates, Scientific American (Mar. 8, 2021, 12:10 P.M.),

[xv]Greenpeace Nordic Ass’n v. Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, HR-2020-2472-P.

[xvi]France plans to end oil and gas production by 2040, Reuters(Mar. 8, 2021, 12:45 P.M.)

[xvii]Denmark set to end all new oil and gas exploration, BBC News(Mar. 9, 2021, 5:10 P.M.),

[xviii]Countries working towards ending oil exploration, Offshore Technology(Mar. 9, 2021, 5:25 P.M.)

[xix]Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, The White House (Mar. 9, 2021, 5:40A.M.)


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