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20 Jan 2023

Theresa Kofler,
Niels Jongerius

Opinion: Why we must abolish the Energy Charter Treaty

'Greta Thunberg’s arrest shows why we must abolish the Energy Charter Treaty', 20 January 2023

Greta Thunberg made international headlines this week when she and other climate activists were briefly detained by police at a protest against the expansion of a coal mine in Germany.

Thunberg was among the thousands of protesters who arrived to denounce the expansion of the huge Garzweiler open-cast lignite mine by German energy company RWE. The extraction of lignite (also known as brown coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels) requires digging 200-metre-deep ravines that can swallow entire villages – in this case, the abandoned village of Lützerath.

Last week, swarms of police moved into the village in North Rhine-Westphalia to clear the activists, some of whom have been camped there for two years.

But it’s not just the thousands of cops – or even the entire German state – that is shielding the fossil fuel industry’s wanton destruction. An obscure mechanism of international law quietly protects their interests and helps them extract more profits: the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). 

Back in the 1960s, Shell (then called Royal Dutch Shell) envisioned a special kind of international protection for their investments in newly independent Indonesia. Fearing that a potentially unfriendly government might impede its profits, Shell wanted protection that went beyond the traditional national court system...

... There have been protests across Europe against this antiquated and controversial treaty. More than one million people signed a petition to end it. Several leading EU states, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, have announced they will exit this secret weapon of the fossil fuel industry. Italy has already left. However, the European Commission is doing everything it can to save the treaty...