“We cannot carry out the climate transition at the expense of the rights of indigenous peoples”. These were the words of Greta Thunberg, international figure of the fight against climate change, who was present the 1st of March during protests in Oslo for the dismantlement of two wind parks in the peninsula of Fosen, to the north of Trondheim. These protests quickly became national, with demonstrations in Kristiansand the 4th, that made it to the headline of the local news. Usually, wind turbines are seen as one of the prime methods to fight climate change, so why would even a strong figure of this fight stand against these parks?  

The core issue of the parks is that they come in direct conflict with the way of life of Sami reindeer herders, as these parks are built on pastures that they use for the raising of the animals, the noise and presence of the wind turbines disturbing them. Because of this, the wind parks presence is seen as an endangerment of their traditional way of lives as the last remaining indigenous European people.  

This story is in many ways comparable to another story that took place from the 1960s to the 1980s: the Alta-Kautokeino River controversy. A barrage was to be built on a river that would endanger the Masi community. At the end, while the Stortinget (Norwegian Parliament) ruled in favor of the foundation of a Sami Parliament, the construction of the dam was still allowed by the Supreme Court. 

However, this time the ruling is different: the 11th of October 2021, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the two farmers, as “a grand chamber of the Supreme Court unanimously found an interference with this [cultural] right and ruled the wind power license and the expropriation decision invalid” (Le Monde). Yet, the government seem to have turned a blind eye to this ruling, as the park is still active to this day.  

However, change occurred thanks to the protests: Petroleum and Energy Minister Terje Aasland apologized after conversations with Sámi representatives and promised to take action to make the ruling effective. Negotiations are ongoing to try to find a solution and make both the reindeer’s raising and the wind park coexist if that is possible.  

This issue reminds us of one of the prime debates regarding action against climate change: which place should indigenous and cultural rights hold in this fight? While fighting climate change is important, cultural rights cannot be ignored: Maja Kristine Jåma, Sami reindeer herder, talks of “green colonization”, a term that while is disagreed upon by the government, shows a real issue about how climate change is seen by these people, as it has historically been caused by Western colonizing countries (although every country in some way partake into it nowadays). 

Understanding local perceptions of the fight against climate change is key when it comes to acting, as any attack against cultural rights will be rightfully seen as a neocolonialist attitude, which today is something to consider on both the local scale (such as here) and in international relations. This adds a new layer of difficulty for the governments in terms of policies that need to be considered just as much as the economic and environmental factors: a social factor, which is one of the main parts of what sustainable development is.  

Which is why Thunberg’s intervention in the protest is such a big matter: she is an internationally known figure in the fight against climate change, and her taking a stance in favor of these cultural rights sends a strong message about the need and possibility to reconcile these two sensitive topics that struggle to cooperate, as it often seems that one needs to be favored over the other. While fighting climate change is important, this case reminds us that it remains a part of something greater: achieving worldwide sustainable development, which needs to consider economy, environment and social rights equally. 

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