LONDON – The UK government is “sitting on the fence” over calls to reform a decades-old agreement governing the global energy market ahead of the COP26 climate conference, according to the Labor Party.
Shadow Commerce Secretary Emily Thornberry wrote to Commerce Secretary Liz Truss in a letter seen by POLITICO urging the government to push for green reform in talks to update the Charter treaty Energy.
The international agreement, signed by 54 countries, was put in place in the aftermath of the Cold War to open up the global energy market. It allows private companies to sue governments for damages if the value or future profits of private investments are affected by new legislation.
Climate activists are fed up with companies using it to take legal action against countries trying to restrict fossil fuel-related activities in a bid to go green. More than 400 environmental groups, charities, NGOs and business activists signed a statement last month calling on the UK and the EU to pull out of TCE.
German energy company Uniper is using the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the deal to challenge the Dutch government over plans to phase out coal-fired electricity. British oil and gas exploration company Rockhopper is awaiting a verdict on its challenge to Italian restrictions on offshore oil and gas operations in the Adriatic Sea.
Talks to modernize the TCE have been underway since 2017, but the process has been slow and the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) is not pushing for fossil fuel investments to be outside its arbitration system.
In the letter to Truss, Thornberry said it was “disappointing to see the UK government remain on the fence in the face of changes being proposed by others to remove fossil fuels from the scope of TCE investment protections, rather than pushing these changes forward ourselves. “
And she added: “This is yet another example of the UK government failing to show leadership in the most pressing and topical debates around climate action.”
Ahead of the next TEC round on September 28, Thornberry called on Truss to demand the removal of protections for fossil fuel investments, reaffirm the right of nations to regulate against fossil fuels, and use the upcoming summit on fossil fuels. COP26 climate in Glasgow in November to bring other nations on board with the agenda.
âWe can’t just continue with thirty-year-old rules helping companies protect their profits at the expense of governments trying to protect the planet,â Thornberry wrote. âThe climate crisis will not be resolved by staying in the background in the negotiations and hoping that no one notices. ”
Removing fossil fuels from the deal would require unanimous agreement from all signatory nations, which means the chances of that happening are almost zero.
“We have not taken the political decision to request the exclusion of investments in fossil fuels from TCE coverage and we have not assessed the likely effect of such an exclusion,” the Minister of Finance wrote. Graham Stuart exports in a parliamentary response earlier this year. Still, he added that the UK “supports the renegotiation of investment protection provisions in the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which aim to bring the treaty in line with modern investment treaty practices” .
In October 2019, the House of Commons European Review Committee said the UK government had been unable to provide “any meaningful details” on its negotiating targets for reform of the ECT.
âThe Energy Charter Treaty was designed by and for big polluters to protect their dirty investments,â said Jean Blaylock, policy and campaign manager at Global Justice Now, last month. “He mocks international climate commitments in a year when the UK hosts a crucial climate summit,” she added.
A government spokesperson said: âEnergy Charter Treaty member states are currently engaged in a process of modernizing the treaty, and we are working hard to ensure that it helps deliver on the energy priorities of the EU. government, in particular in the run-up to COP26. ”
âThis will include the right for states to pass laws to enable them to meet emissions reduction targets, tackle climate change and support the global transition to clean energy. “
This article has been updated to add remarks from a government spokesperson.