Energy News Today

The fight to dismantle the little-known Energy Charter Treaty

Electricity transmission pylons beside the gas-fired power plant, operated by Uniper SE, in Irsching, Germany, on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

Michaela Handrek-Rehle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — The Energy Charter Treaty is not widely known, yet it’s feared the influence of this international agreement could be enough by itself to derail hopes of capping global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The ECT contains a highly contentious legal mechanism that allows foreign energy companies to sue governments over climate action that could hurt future profits.

These “corporate court” cases, sometimes referred to as investor-state dispute settlements, are highly secretive, take place outside of the national legal system and can often lead to far larger financial awards than companies might otherwise expect.

Five fossil fuel companies are already known to be seeking over $18 billion in compensation from governments over energy policy changes and most of these have been brought via the ECT.

For example, Germany’s RWE and Uniper are suing the Netherlands over coal phase-out plans and the U.K.’s Rockhopper is suing Italy over a ban on offshore drilling.

Not only do countries have to get out of that treaty, they have to torpedo it on the way out.

Julia Steinberger

Ecological economist and professor from the University of Lausanne

A spokesperson for Uniper told CNBC: “The Dutch government has announced its intention to shut down the last coal-fired power plants by 2030 without compensation.

“Uniper is convinced that shutting down our power plant in Maasvlakte after only 15 years of operation would be unlawful without adequate compensation.”

RWE said it “expressly supports the energy transition in The Netherlands. In principle, it also supports the measures to reduce CO2 associated with the law, but believes compensation is necessary.”

Rockhopper did not respond to a request for comment.

The number of these corporate court tribunals is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, a trend that campaigners fear will act as a handbrake on plans to transition away from fossil fuels.

Governments that are prepared to implement measures to tackle the climate crisis, meanwhile, could be hit with enormous fines.

“The Energy Charter Treaty is a real trap for countries,” Yamina Saheb, an energy expert and former ECT Secretariat employee turned whistleblower, told CNBC via telephone.

Saheb quit her role with the Secretariat in June 2019 after concluding it would be impossible to align the ECT with the goals of the landmark Paris Agreement. She said any attempt to reform or modernize the treaty would ultimately be vetoed since many member states are heavily reliant on fossil fuel revenues.

Thick smoke, cloud of water vapour comes out of the cooling towers of the lignite-fired power plant Weisweiler of RWE Power AG in Germany.

Horst Galuschka | picture alliance | Getty Images

“If we withdraw, we can protect ourselves, we can start implementing the climate neutrality targets and we can…

Read More: The fight to dismantle the little-known Energy Charter Treaty

2021-11-24 01:03:09

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