Five claimants aged 17-31 want their governments to exit the energy charter treaty, which compensates oil and gas firms for lost profits.
Commencing their action this week, they will argue that their governments’ membership of 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 secretive investor court system that enables fossil fuel companies to sue governments for lost profits.
“It just can’t 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 catastrophic lethal floods came to her home region, the Ahr valley, last July.
The claimants are suing 12 ECHR member states, including France, Germany and the UK because these countries are home to companies that have been active users of the ECT charter. The German energy company RWE is suing the Netherlands for €1.4bn (£1.2bn / $1.5bn) over its plans to phase out coal; Rockhopper Exploration, based in the UK, is suing the Italian government after it banned new drilling near the coast.
The claimants argue that membership of the ECT violates the right to life (article two) and right to respect for private and family life (article eight) of the European convention on human rights.
The case comes as the ECT falls under growing scrutiny. The treaty – which has about 55 member countries, including EU states, the UK and Japan – has been described as a real threat to the Paris agreement; it could allow companies to sue governments for an estimated €1.3tn ($1.6tn) until 2050 in compensation for early closure of coal, oil and gas plants. Activists and whistleblowers say these vast sums would stymie the green transition.
Watch this space.