Young people go to European court to block treaty that helps fossil fuel investors

Young people go to European court to block treaty that helps fossil fuel investors

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Young victims of the climate crisis will take legal action in Europe’s top human rights court on Tuesday against an energy treaty protecting fossil fuel investors.

Five people, aged between 17 and 31, who have suffered devastating floods, forest fires and hurricanes are taking a case 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 obstacle to action on the climate crisis. It is the first time that the Strasbourg court will be asked to consider the treaty, a secret court system for investors that allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments for lost profits.

“It cannot be that the fossil fuel industry is still more protected than our human rights,” said Julia, a 17-year-old high school student from Germany, who said she was joining the legal challenge after the catastrophic lethal floods came. to her home 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 losing ground under my feet.” During the floods, 222 people died in Germany and Belgium. “That’s why I decided to join this legal action, to fight against the energy charter treaty that still protects the fuel industry.”

The applicants are suing 12 ECHR member states, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, because these countries are home to companies that have been active users of the ECT letter. German energy company RWE is suing the Netherlands for €1.4bn (£1.2bn) over its plans to phase out coal; 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 2) and the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case comes as ECT is under increasing scrutiny. The treaty – which has around 55 member states, including EU states, the UK and Japan – has been described as a real threat to the Paris accord; could allow companies to sue governments for around €1.3 trillion by 2050 in compensation for the early closure of coal, oil and gas plants. Activists and whistleblowers say these large sums would impede the green transition as time is running out to stay within the 1.5°C global warming threshold.

The legal action comes as a letter to EU leaders from 76 climate scientists seen by the Guardian saying that continuing to protect fossil fuel investors under ECT rules would prevent fossil fuel power plants from closing or guarantee huge compensation payments if shutdowns were to be stopped. in front of.

“Both options will jeopardize the EU’s climate neutrality target and the EU’s green deal,” said the letter, which urges the current French EU presidency to work towards withdrawing member states from the treaty. “In these days of climate and energy struggles, EU climate leadership is needed more than ever to ‘make our planet great again’.”

And later this week ECT members will meet to negotiate the “modernization” of the 1994 treaty. The European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of the 27 EU member states, has proposed a gradual elimination of protection for fossil fuel investors until the end of 2040.

Activists said this was a little too late and blamed a compromise proposal seen as designed to placate countries that want to protect fossil fuel investors, such as Japan. “The options being discussed are too weak to make the ECT compliant with the Paris agreement or EU law,” said Cornelia Maarfield, senior trade and investment policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe.

France, Germany, Poland and Spain have already instructed the commission to study how the EU could withdraw from the ECT, amid skepticism that the treaty can be compatible with the EU’s climate goals, according to leaked documents published by the Euractiv website. last month.

The Brussels-based ECT secretariat argues that the ECT does not favor fossil fuels and defends the rule of law for investors.

Activists rejected this characterization. “We’re not advocating that they break international law,” Maarfield said. “Even in ECT, there is a clause on withdrawal. Therefore, there is absolutely no breach of any law to terminate a contract in accordance with the rules stipulated in this contract. And the withdrawal procedure in ECT is very easy.”

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