Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and other environmental activists recently protested against wind farms in Norway, which are considered a key tool in the fight against climate change. The two wind farms in question are located in central Norway, on land traditionally used by the Sami people to herd reindeer. While the turbines help power thousands of homes and contribute to Norway’s green ambitions, activists argue that the cost is too high. They claim that the wind farms disrupt the daily lives of the Sami people and frighten the animals they rely on for their livelihood.
Activists representing Norway’s Sami community have been calling for the wind turbines to be demolished for months, accusing Norway of putting profit over Indigenous rights. They point to a decision by Norway’s top court in 2021, which ruled that the wind farms violated Sami herders’ cultural rights. Despite the ruling, the infrastructure remains in operation as part of a $1 billion-plus project. Last week, activists sat shoulder to shoulder and began a protest occupation of the entrance to Norway’s Energy Ministry in Oslo. Thunberg also joined the protest and was twice “moved” by police after she and other protesters blocked the entrance to the country’s Finance Ministry and later that of the Ministry of Climate and Environment.
The Norwegian wind farms consist of 151 turbines that became operational in 2019 and 2020. Statkraft, a Norwegian state-owned company and partial owner of the wind farms, acknowledged in a statement that the “current situation is demanding for herders operating in the southern Fosen territory,” and added that “the affected Sami population should be allowed to continue their cultural practice.” However, the company did not want to “anticipate the outcome” of assessments to determine what steps it should take.
The Sami people number between 50,000 and 100,000, with as many as 65,000 of them located in Norway. The United Nations has documented how Nordic countries have long suppressed their language and customs, though more recent Norwegian governments have moved to protect their culture. As countries race to reduce carbon emissions, the struggle over wind turbines highlights the difficulties faced by those whose land, resources, and cultural life are implicated in climate solutions. The Sami people’s predicament is echoed by villagers in southern Thailand, who watched as a new biomass plant interrupted their water supply, and activists in Mexico who cited abuse of Native rights to stop one of Latin America’s largest wind farms from being built on Indigenous land in Oaxaca.
Renewable energy projects have faced allegations of rights abuse in recent years, with the most serious and frequent charges linked to not respecting Indigenous land rights, according to a 2022 report by the UK-based Business and Human Rights Resource Center. While Norway’s policies are “not yet consistent” with what is needed to cap the Earth’s warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, wind power is seen as a key asset. Wind power generated about 8.5 percent of the country’s electricity in 2020, according to reports.
The Sami people’s predicament illustrates the complexities involved in balancing environmental goals and Indigenous rights. Thunberg emphasized that Indigenous rights must “go hand in hand” with climate action. Climate justice cannot be achieved if it happens at the expense of some people. As the world continues to grapple with climate change, it is crucial to ensure that those most affected are not left behind.