Young Europeans are taking legal action to overturn the treaty that fossil fuel giants are using to foil climate action

Several young victims of the climate emergency are planning to file a complaint with Europe’s highest human rights court on Tuesday, where they will challenge a murky energy treaty that protects investors in fossil fuels at the expense of securing energy. a livable planet.

“It’s hard to think of an international treaty that is more obsolete and out of time.”

As The Guardian reported, five plaintiffs aged between 17 and 31, all of whom have recently suffered disastrous hurricanes, floods and fires, are trying to persuade the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the Treaty on the Charter of Energy (TCE) of 1994 violates the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life, respectively second and eighth articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case marks the first time the ECHR will be asked to review the ECT, a murky deal whose investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments over economic losses anticipated resulting from plans to move away from coal, oil and gas.

“It is simply impossible for the fossil fuel industry to be even more protected than our human rights,” said a plaintiff named Julia, a 17-year-old German high school student. The Guardian.

Julia decided to join the trial after her hometown was devastated by extreme flooding last July. Torrential rains in the Ahr Valley – the intensity of which shocked climate experts, who said total greenhouse gas pollution was causing more catastrophic weather sooner than expected – forced Julia and his parents to flee their home and caused flooding that killed 222 people across 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,” she said.

The five young plaintiffs are suing a dozen ECHR member states, including France, Germany and the UK, because these countries are home to companies that have invoked the ECT to hinder a clean energy transition.

German energy companies RWE and Uniper, for example, are suing the Netherlands for 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) and 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion), respectively, in compensation for the Dutch government’s plan to phase out coal by 2030. Meanwhile, the Italian government is being sued by Rockhopper Exploration for 225 million euros ($237 million) after reintroducing a ban that prevents the UK-based company to drill an oil field in the Adriatic Sea.

In addition to siphoning off billions of taxpayer dollars that could otherwise be used to fund climate action, the ECT is derailing more robust decarbonization plans, critics say.

Given that around 60% of secret ECT court rulings favor investors, critics say the mere threat of costly litigation has a chilling effect on climate ambition, prompting states to weaken policies to attempt to prevent energy companies from claiming that certain measures do not meet the ECT’s ambiguous “fair and equitable treatment” standard.

ECT’s so-called “future earnings” clause is particularly impactful, as it protects hundreds of billions of dollars worth of fossil fuel infrastructure.

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, noted that “it is hard to think of an international treaty that is more outdated and out of date”.

Last year, Yamina Saheb, a former ECT secretariat worker who resigned in 2018 to sound the alarm, called the pact a “real threat” to the Paris agreement, which targets limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. . “It’s the biggest threat I know of,” the whistleblower added.

According to Saheb, foreign investors could, under the ECT, sue governments for 1.3 trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) by 2050 in reimbursement for the closure of fossil fuel power plants. This sum is equivalent to what the EU hopes to spend on a green transition during this decade, the most crucial for decarbonisation.

The trial of the young plaintiffs coincides with a new letter in which 76 climate scientists warn European leaders that continuing to protect coal, oil and gas investors under ECT rules would force countries to “choose between maintaining the existing fossil fuel infrastructure to end of life or facing new ISDS claims.”

“Both options will jeopardize the EU’s climate neutrality objective and the EU Green Deal,” says the letter, which urges recipients to withdraw European nations from the ECT.

The letter comes as ECT’s 53 members, which stretch from Western Europe to Central Asia to Japan, meet this week to negotiate the “modernization” of the 1994 agreement.

The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the 27 EU member states, has proposed that ECT protections for many existing fossil fuel investments be extended until 2040.

Such a slow phase-out, the letter says, would be inconsistent with scientific findings demonstrating the need to immediately halt construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure and urgently close many existing sites this decade.

Countries that withdraw from the ECT are still subject to ISDS lawsuits for another 20 years thanks to a “zombie clause” in the agreement.

“We don’t just need to phase out coal and fossil fuels,” Sandra Beckerman, a member of the Dutch parliament, said last year. “We need to phase out the power these companies still have, the power they have over our governments.”