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Academics urge UK Government to exit climate-busting treaty

More than 110 UK academics have signed an open letter calling on energy secretary Grant Shapps to exit the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), a little-known legal pact that could hamper climate ambition.

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Currently, the ECT allows companies to sue Governments directly for policies that could affect their profits, and the number of cases being brought under the treaty against climate measures has been rising. UK company Rockhopper was awarded £210million against Italy when the country banned the exploitation of oil and gas along its coastline, while German companies Uniper and RWE threatened to take the Netherlands to court for its phase-out of coal-fired power stations.

This open letter comes at a moment of crisis for the ECT, when members increasingly feel it’s incompatible with their climate goals. The European Commission signalled on Wednesday that it intended to withdraw as a block from the treaty. Previously, seven European countries - including France, Germany and the Netherlands - had already stated that they would withdraw.

Among the signatories are Prof Liam Campling in Queen Mary’s School of Business and Management who co-founded the UK Climate and Trade Commission, Dr Peter Brett and Dr Paul Copeland from Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations, and Prof David Whyte who leads the Centre for Climate Crime and Justice in Queen Mary’s School of Law.

They join 110 academics to warn that “we have a very limited time to undertake a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, and “continued membership of the ECT will harm our prospects of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees because it will prolong the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels and impede the transition to renewable energy”. This echoes warnings by the United Nations’ IPCC in 2022 that the ECT risks blocking the phase-out of fossil fuels.

If the UK stays in the ECT, estimates suggest it could end up exposed to around £5.3billion in claims. Despite clear climate concerns and mounting international pressure, the Government has remained silent on the issue. The letter notes that now is a key moment for the UK to withdraw from the treaty – given the conclusion of COP27, the recent end to the UK’s COP26 presidency, and the ECT modernisation meeting proposed for early April.

The letter is available to read in full on the University of Warwick website, where letter signatory James Harrison is a Professor of Law and sits on the UK Climate and Trade Commission.

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