(Adds Greenpeace comment, details, background)
OSLO, April 20 (Reuters) - Norway’s supreme court will hear a lawsuit opposing the country’s Arctic oil exploration brought by Greenpeace and other environmental groups, it said on Monday, in a landmark case for Western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer.
The environmental groups argue that the Norwegian government’s decision to grant oil exploration licences in 2016 in the Arctic Barents Sea to oil firms, including Equinor , was illegal.
Two lower courts, however, have found that the government’s decision was legal, rejecting the activists’ claim it breached the Norwegian people’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.
In a sign of the case’s importance, the supreme court said the case would be heard by the full court, but did not give a date.
The lawsuit is part of an emerging branch of legal action worldwide, where plaintiffs seek to use a nation’s founding principles to make the case for curbing emissions.
The case is being led by Greenpeace as well as Nature and Youth, Norway’s largest youth environmental group. They say Arctic exploration will lead to higher emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide and endanger wildlife.
“We look forward to a thorough examination as to whether the government breached the Constitution when they choose to grant new oil licences in the Arctic even though they knew the world was in the midst of a climate crisis,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace in Norway, told Reuters.
Oil companies have already drilled exploration wells in some licences awarded in 2016, but have not made any significant discoveries. (Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Pravin Char)