Young people go to EU court to stop treaty that helps fossil fuel investors | Climate crisis
Young victims of the climate crisis will take legal action in Europe’s highest human rights court on Tuesday against an energy treaty that protects investors in fossil fuels.
Five people, aged 17 to 31, victims of devastating floods, forest fires and hurricanes, are complaining to the European Court of Human Rights, where they will argue that their governments’ adherence to the little-known Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is a dangerous barrier to action on the climate crisis. It is the first time the court in Strasbourg will be called upon to examine the treaty, a secretive investor court system that allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments for lost profits.
“It is simply impossible for the fossil fuel industry to be even more protected than our human rights,” said Julia, a 17-year-old German high school student, who said she was joining the legal challenge after deadly floods catastrophic. in his native region, the Ahr valley, last July.
She and her parents had to flee their home when the floodwaters arrived. Recalling the escape with the water around her hips, she said: “It was really scary and going through the water felt like I was losing ground under my feet.” During the floods, 222 people died in Germany and Belgium. “That’s why I decided to join this lawsuit, to fight against the Energy Charter Treaty that still protects the fuel industry.”
The plaintiffs are suing 12 ECHR member states, including France, Germany and the UK, because these countries are home to companies that have been active users of the ECT Charter. German energy firm RWE is suing the Netherlands for €1.4bn (£1.2bn) over its coal phase-out project; UK-based Rockhopper Exploration is suing the Italian government after it banned further drilling near the coast.
The plaintiffs argue that membership of the ECT violates the right to life (Article Two) and the right to respect for private and family life (Article Eight) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case comes as ECT is coming under increasing scrutiny. The treaty – which has around 55 member countries, including EU states, the UK and Japan – has been described as a real threat to the Paris agreement; it could allow companies to sue governments for around 1.3 billion euros until 2050 in compensation for the early closure of coal, oil and gas power plants. Campaigners and whistleblowers say the huge sums would hamper the green transition, as time is running out to stay within the 1.5C global heating limit.
The lawsuit comes as a letter to European leaders by 76 climatologists seen by the Guardian says continuing to protect fossil fuel investors under ECT rules would prevent fossil fuel power plants from shutting down or ensure huge compensation payments if shutdowns continue.
“Both options will jeopardize the EU’s climate neutrality objective and the EU’s green deal,” says the letter, which calls on the current French EU presidency to work for a withdrawal of states. treaty members. “In these times of struggles for climate and energy, EU climate leadership is needed more than ever to ‘make our planet even greater’.”
And later this week, ECT members will meet to negotiate the “modernization” of the 1994 treaty. The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the 27 EU member states, has proposed a phase-out of protecting fossil fuel investors by the end of 2040.
Campaigners said it was too little, too late, and blamed a compromise proposal seen as designed to appease countries that want to protect fossil fuel investors, such as Japan. “The options being discussed are too weak to make the ECT compatible with the Paris Agreement or with EU law,” said Cornelia Maarfield, senior trade and investment policy coordinator at the Climate Action Network. Europe.
France, Germany, Poland and Spain have already tasked the committee with studying how the EU could withdraw from the ECT, amid skepticism about the treaty’s compatibility with EU climate goals , according leaked documents published by the EURACTIV website last month.
The Brussels-based ECT Secretariat argues that the ECT does not favor fossil fuels and upholds the rule of law for investors.
Activists have rejected this characterization. “We’re not advocating that they break international law,” Maarfield said. “Even in the ECT, there is an opt-out clause. So there is absolutely no violation of the law to withdraw from an agreement, according to the rules that are stipulated in this agreement. And the removal procedure in ECT is very simple.