Europe’s dirtiest secret – one deterring it from seriously and rapidly tackling the climate emergency – is not being addressed this week at Cop27, the United Nations climate change conference hosted by Egypt.
Mention of the Energy Charter Treaty would expose how far western states, the biggest greenhouse gas polluters, are from being in a position to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. Failure to do so sets the world on course for catastrophic global warming above 1.5C.
Whatever grand declarations they issue as the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh concludes this week, the reality is that European states effectively tied their hands for the foreseeable future by ratifying the energy treaty back in the 1990s. They have landed themselves with a massive financial burden if they try to cut emissions.
Europe would rather not admit it has made itself the prisoner of transnational energy corporations. The firms can hold member states to ransom for compensation, frustrating European efforts to significantly change energy policies for at least the next two decades.
The treaty’s stipulations help to explain why, despite years of climate pledges, the latest research shows fossil fuel emissions are set to hit a record high by the end of this year.
Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, told world leaders at Cop27: “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator. Our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.”
The Energy Charter Treaty is one of the main drivers propelling Europe down that highway.
Further dissuading Europe from publicly addressing problems with the energy treaty is the fact that it would highlight tensions over energy policy with Russia that are at the root of the current Ukraine war.
It might even provide a crucial piece of the puzzle in trying to understand who was behind the sabotage of the two Nord Stream pipelines supplying Russian gas directly to Germany – and why. The pipelines were blown up by an unknown party or parties in October.
Instead, there continues to be a conspiracy of silence over the energy treaty and its effects. The failure to push for its abolition at Cop27 will undermine any declarations of progress on addressing the climate crisis.
The Energy Charter Treaty came into being shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Energy firms lobbied for its adoption to secure long-term investments exploiting fossil energy resources in the former Soviet Union, in case these newly independent states later switched their industries back to public ownership.