Energies: young activists and an “old” treaty

This is the story of a discreet international treaty. It is little known outside the circles of energy experts and climate activists, but is increasingly seen as a thorn in the side of states when it comes to phasing out fossil fuels.

Let’s go back to the 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, East and West wanted to strengthen the integration of their energy sectors and laid the foundations for a global energy market. Called the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), the legally binding text has been ratified by some fifty states, including those of the European Union. In a still unstable world, it provides investors with more security, as companies can now sue States before international arbitration tribunals in the event of a change in energy policy that would compromise their activity.

Some practical cases: in the Netherlands, the companies RWE and Uniper are currently taking the government to court, after its decision to phase out coal. They claim respectively 1.4 and 1 billion euros in compensation. In 2017, the British company Rockhopper also took advantage of the TCE to request 300 million euros from the Italian government, after its refusal to grant a concession for an oil field.

France for a unilateral withdrawal from the treaty

At a time when countries are putting in place new rules to reduce their CO2 emissions, it is little to say that the mechanism is criticized. More and more companies are using the text to seek compensation for environmental regulations. So much so that the European Commission has been pushing for several years to recast the text. But the discussions are slipping and some countries – like France and Spain – are openly asking for the unilateral withdrawal of the Twenty-Seven from the treaty.

On June 21, five young Europeans aged 17 to 31 (accompanied by lawyers) came to put a coin into the protest machine. They are filing a complaint against 12 European member states of the ECT before the Court of Justice of the European Union. Reason: these states “let the Energy Charter Treaty delay and make the energy transition more expensive”compromising their “right to life” and their “right to respect for private and family life”.

To understand the motivations of the complainants, you have to look at their profile, which is all symbolic. There is Maya, 19, who comes from Saint-Martin. “I lost most of my childhood life on the night of September 5-6, 2017 when my island was hit by Hurricane Irma”, she says. There is also Julia, 17, who lives in the Ahr Valley, Germany, and saw her house ravaged by floods in 2021. While the legal path promises to be arduous, their fight has immediate merit. That of bringing to light the contradictory injunctions of our international commitments.


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