Case study

Norway: Wind power threatens South Sámi Peoples' reindeer herding

The reindeer herder Leif Jåma is a member of the Sami people in Norway. The reindeer herder Leif Jåma is a member of the Sami people in Norway.

A wind farm on the Fosen peninsula threatens the reindeer herding of the Indigenous South Sámi people, and thus their very survival. Standing side-by-side with the affected communities, the STP is calling for the restoration and rewilding of the region. In 2021, this demand acquired still greater momentum as a result of a judgement of Norway’s highest court, which declared the construction of the wind farm to be illegal. But the wind turbines keep turning and pressure must be maintained – including on the Swiss investors in the project, who shrug off all responsibility.

During the construction of the wind turbine: Leif Jåma talks about the dreaded impact of the wind project on reindeer herding.

The Norwegian Fosen Vind company has erected a huge wind farm on the Fosen peninsula in central Norway. One of the areas affected, Storheia, is of major significance to the local South Sámi people: it previously constituted about 44% of the winter pasture for the Indigenous reindeer herders. However, the project has made this grazing land unusable as the reindeer avoid the wind park. This has had dramatic consequences for the South Sámi people. The loss of this large area of pasture land means that in the medium to long term they have too little winter grazing for the reindeer. As a result, the last remaining herder families will have to reduce the scope of their traditional livelihood or give it up altogether – along with their culture. For this reason, the Society for Threatened Peoples believes that the project violates agreements under international law and human rights conventions.

This view is shared by the affected communities. They are calling for the dismantling of the wind farm and the rewilding of their area. In 2013, reindeer herders lodged an objection to the location of the wind farm on Indigenous land with the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. The ministry disallowed the objection, so the case went to Norway’s Supreme Court. In a sensational judgement in 2021, the court ruled in favour of the South Sámi people. It declared the total of 151 wind turbines in Storheia, which were built on Indigenous land, to be illegal. It upheld the affected South Sámi people’s contention that the wind farm violated their right to culture as contained in article 27 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The judgement creates a precedent in Norway and thereby impacts both upon other wind farms and on natural resource projects on reindeer grazing areas.

However, although the Norwegian Supreme Court decision backs up the South Sámi position, Europe’s biggest wind farm continues to operate. Five hundred days after the judgement, South Sámi protesters and climate activists occupied the square in front of the office of Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre. The activists – Greta Thunberg visited the protest – insisted that the transition to “greener” energy should not be implemented at the expense of Indigenous rights. One of their slogans was “Respect existence or expect resistance”.  The Norwegian government has since apologised and promised to accelerate the search for solutions that will implement the judgement; the reindeer herders are to take an active part in this process.

Swiss financial backers share responsibility

Together with the representatives of the South Sámi, the STP demanded, in their “Turbines Need Sámi Consent” campaign, that investors Statkraft and Nordic Wind Power DA stop the project, withdraw their investments and guarantee the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for Indigenous communities. Meanwhile, the STP, working with the affected South Sámi people, is also putting pressure on the project’s financial backers. Swiss companies are among them. This is because the wind farm was built by the Fosen Wind DA consortium, whose owners are Norwegian state energy group Statkraft and Nordic Wind Power DA, which holds a 40% stake. Nordic Wind Power DA is a consortium of European investors, originally established by Credit Suisse Energy Infrastructure Partners AG, which has a 40% holding in Fosen Vind. In 2020, Credit Suisse sold its shares to Swiss investment firm Energy Infrastructure Partners (EIP), based in Zurich. BKW Energie AG, with its registered office in Bern, is also part of the consortium, through which it has an indirect 11.2% holding in the project. With this in mind, in December 2018 the STP organised a visit to Switzerland by a South Sámi delegation, so that two people affected by the project could discuss the matter personally in talks with BKW and Credit Suisse investors. Later, the STP filed a complaint against BKW with the National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Pressure must be kept up

In the summer of 2021, the STP achieved a major success: as a result of the mediation procedure with the STP, BKW embedded the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in its internal guidelines. There is a need for improved due diligence of this kind to make human rights violations completely impossible in the future. If necessary, BKW will in future be able to use escape clauses to withdraw from the business relationship. In addition, it will embed the low-threshold complaint mechanisms at project level.

Yet in practice, it is unfortunate that BKW continues to ascribe more important to profits than to its own guidelines and the protection of Indigenous communities. After the occupation of the square in front of the Norwegian prime minister’s office in 2023, the group stated that “the judgement does not immediately affect the operation of the wind farm” – an attitude that the STP criticised sharply, and one that shows that pressure needs to be maintained.

This is why the STP and the affected South Sámi communities make the following demands:

  • Statkraft must dismantle the Storheia project and adequately compensate the affected South Sámi communities for the detriment suffered during the building phase.
  • In future projects, Statkraft and Nordic Wind Power DA must carry out an independent environmental and social impact test and publish its results.
  • The land rights of the Sámi must be recognised in future projects. This implies an agreement on land-use rights including appropriate compensation, for example through profit sharing.
  • In all future investment projects, all stakeholders must commit to the United Nations principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and ensure that the rights of the South Sámi people are taken into account and that their voice is heard. This also applies to renewable energy projects.
GfbV and Südsami representatives present a Christmas card to BKW with the wish that the rights of the Indigenous Peoples will be respected in a planned wind power plant in Norway. Photo: Franziska Rothenbühler

GfbV and Südsami representatives present a Christmas card to BKW with the wish that the rights of the Indigenous Peoples will be respected in a planned wind power plant in Norway. Photo: Franziska Rothenbühler Franziska Rothenbuehler

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