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Norway must resolve climate change and human rights paradox, UN expert says

Norwegian version

OSLO (23 September 2019) – The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, praised many elements of Norway’s leadership in protecting human rights and the environment, but said the oil and gas rich country must put more focus on transitioning to a fossil-fuel free economy.

In a statement at the end of his 12-day official visit to the country, Boyd identified several pressing challenges with regard to Norway’s obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil every Norwegian’s right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

“The global climate emergency is causing a wide range of human rights violations across the planet today and threatening to do so on a devastating scale in the years ahead,” he said. “In some ways, Norway is at the forefront of the global transition to a fossil-fuel free future.”

Norway’s electricity system is predominantly emissions-free, and the country has the highest share of electric vehicle sales in the world, the special rapporteur said. He also commended both Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, which provides substantial funding to nations with large areas of tropical forest to prevent deforestation, and the country’s generous donations to the Green Climate Fund, which finances mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

“However, the Norwegian paradox is that its leadership in some aspects of addressing the global climate emergency is enabled by wealth generated by a large petroleum industry,” Boyd said. “Greenhouse gas emissions from this sector are well above 1990 levels and exploration for additional oil and gas continues in Norway, despite clear evidence that human society cannot burn existing reserves of oil, gas and coal while meeting the targets established in the Paris Agreement.

“To provide international leadership on climate change - the paramount human rights challenge facing humanity today - Norway should stop exploring for additional oil and gas reserves, stop expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, and harness Norwegian wealth and ingenuity to plan a just transition to a fossil-fuel free economy. Norway, as one of the world’s wealthiest nations and one of the world’s leading producers of oil and gas, must accept substantial responsibility for leading efforts in mitigation, adaptation, and addressing loss and damage.”

Norway’s Constitution has also long recognised the right to a healthy environment in its Article 112 (previously 110b). However, the expert urged the Norwegian Government to modify its position that the right articulated in Article 112 is merely a principle, and to recognise that this vitally important provision is a clear expression of the human right to live in a healthy environment. 

During his mission, from 12 to 23 September, the Special Rapporteur participated in more than 30 meetings with government representatives, judges, Members of Parliament, civil society organisations, and businesses, as well as representatives of the Sámi Parliament and concerned members of the Sámi community in Karasjok and Kautokeino.

In Finnmark County, the expert found that the cumulative development of mines, wind farms, hydroelectric power plants, roads, and powerlines have resulted in loss and fragmentation of pasture lands and constitute serious threats to the sustainability of reindeer husbandry. The expert endorsed Sámi concerns regarding the proposed Davvi wind farm, the Nussir copper mine approved in a National Salmon Fjord, and the re-opening of the gold mine at Biedjovággi/Bidjovagge.

“Reindeer herding is at the heart of Sámi culture and provides a livelihood for thousands of people. By redoubling its efforts to secure the free, prior, and informed consent of the Sámi before making any decisions that affect their rights, Norway could provide a model for the world in protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, protecting the environment, and highlighting the connections between human rights, healthy ecosystems, and healthy people,” Boyd said.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report on the findings of his visit to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020.


Dr. David R. Boyd was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the  environment for a three-year term commencing August 1, 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. His career has included serving as the executive director of Ecojustice, appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada, and working as a special advisor on sustainability for Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. He has advised many governments on environmental, constitutional, and human rights policy and co-chaired Vancouver’s effort to become the world’s greenest city by 2020. He is a member of the World Commission on Environmental Law, an expert advisor for the UN’s Harmony with Nature Initiative, and a member of ELAW, the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms. Alia El Khatib  (+41 79 444 4828 / aelkhatib@ohchr.org) or write to srenvironment@ohchr.org. For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

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