Youth Lawsuit Takes on International Energy Treaty

Youth Lawsuit Takes on International Energy Treaty

Young people are taking 12 European countries, including France, Germany, and the UK, to court for their participation in an energy treaty that allows fossil fuel companies to sue governments over climate action that cuts into their profits. Further, these youths have brought their suits to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), arguing that their governments’ membership in the energy charter treaty (ECT) violates their right to life under European law. The treaty has, in fact, allowed for energy companies based in those nations to sue for billions of euros over actions like phasing out coal and ending drilling projects.

"It just can't be that the fossil fuel industry is still more protected than our human rights," a plaintiff named Julia, a 17-year-old high school student from Germany, told the Guardian.

BBC: Kids taking countries to court for climate change | Newsround, January 22, 2022.

Investigate Europe: The Energy Charter Treaty | How shadow courts could prolong Europe's fossil Age, February 23, 2021.

Why This Matters

To even try and avoid 1.5 degrees of warming, fossil fuel production needs to stop now. But if governments have to pay large sums of money for halting new polluting projects and closing old ones, it’ll be a massive drain on the public funds required for the necessary energy transition. Some countries (including France, Germany, and Poland) have raised the possibility of the EU leaving the treaty, citing that it jeopardizes the bloc’s climate goals.

"It’s a real threat [to the Paris Agreement]. It’s the biggest threat I am aware of,” Yamina Saheb, who quit her role with the ECT to speak out against it, told the Guardian. According to her estimate, if countries don’t leave the ECT, fossil fuel investors could sue governments for €1.3 trillion through 2050 as compensation for the early closures of coal, oil, and gas plants.

Reuters: World could see 1.5C of warming in next five years, May 10, 2022.

Investigate Europe: Whistleblower Yamina Saheb on the Energy Charter Treaty, February 22, 2022.

ChangeNOW: Opening Ceremony (Fireside Chat) | Yamina Saheb, June 15, 2022.

Youth Lawsuits

Young people worldwide are stressed about the climate crisis and fed up with government inaction. A recent worldwide survey found that nearly 60% of young people (aged 16 to 25) said they felt very worried or extremely worried about inaction; 65% said that governments are failing young people; and almost as many said governments are lying about the impact of their actions.

Now, they’re putting those frustrations into action. In the US, five youth-led cases are pending against state governments that claim elected officials’ approaches to climate change violated constitutional rights. That includes Held v. Montana, which will mark the first youth lawsuit of this kind to go to trial next year. The 16 plaintiffs argue the state prioritized fossil fuel company profits over their livable future.

Greenpeace: Fire Drill Fridays Movie Night with Jane Fonda | YOUTH v GOV, May 4, 2021.

Democracy Now: Bill McKibben | Latest IPCC Climate Report Underscores "Fossil Fuel Is at the Root of Our Problems," April 7, 2022.

CBS: Climate change lawsuits | Taking fossil fuel firms to court, April 17, 2022.

Buildings and Cities: Yamina Saheb | Implications of the Paris Agreement’s temperature target, November 16, 2020.

Sven Giegold: Europe Calling “The Energy Charter Treaty – Scrutinising the dirtiest international agreement," July 1, 2021.