380+ civil society organizations demand world governments quit ISDS

More than 380 organizations say no to ISDS

The Trade Justice Network joins 383 and counting civil society organizations in over 60 countries have signed an open letter calling on governments around the world to drop Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in order to enable real climate action.

ISDS rules in free trade agreements allow corporations to sue governments in special international courts over policies that threaten the company’s profits. Governments are often forced to choose between paying millions or billions of dollars, or withdrawing democratic laws.

Fossil fuel companies frequently use these rules t0 block climate action policies, leading the UN’s IPCC 2022 report to identify ISDS as a major threat to climate action. ISDS is frequently used by Canadian companies abroad, like in 2017 when Canada-based Vermilion Energy threatened a billion dollar case against France if it went ahead with a law to ban all fossil fuel extraction by 2040, leading to the law being scrapped. Cases like these have led Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to call ISDS a tool for “litigation terrorism”, meant to “instill fear of environmental regulations, climate regulations because you know that it’s going to be costly”.

Any government that is serious about climate action needs to be just as serious about scrapping ISDS. That’s why the Trade Justice Network, along with hundreds of civil society organizations, are demanding of the world’s governments: quit ISDS!

Find the letter below, and the list of signatories here.



Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) threatens climate action. As the UN climate conference COP 27 starts, we call on governments around the world to put an end to this unjust and dangerous system.

Many trade and investment agreements include ISDS mechanisms. ISDS empowers transnational corporations to sue governments in secretive tribunals outside of the national legal system over law and policy changes that they fear could reduce their profits.

For many years, oil, gas, mining, extractives and energy corporations have brought hundreds of ISDS cases against countries – energy and mining cases make up 42% of known ISDS cases[1]. Now there are an increasing number of cases that directly challenge climate policy. Fossil fuel corporations are already suing over coal phase out, the cancellation of a tar sands oil pipeline, a ban on offshore oil drilling and fracking regulation. Industry insiders themselves expect these cases may be only a foretaste, given the scale of fossil fuel ‘stranded assets’[2].

This year’s IPCC report was clear that ISDS risks blocking the phase out of fossil fuels[3]. It specifically highlights the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which many of the fossil fuel corporations are using and which developing countries are currently being pushed to join.

The key risks from ISDS for tackling the climate crisis are:

  • Increasing the cost of climate action
    Corporations can claim vast amounts of taxpayer money through ISDS, often far higher than in domestic courts. Claims in recent climate cases have been in the billions, and they often include a large amount for hypothetical future profits. This surpasses the ability of many countries to pay, making the climate transition unaffordable.

  • Regulatory chill
    The fear of being sued may cause countries to delay or decide against taking action that is needed on climate. Countries have already admitted that this is happening.[4] The threat of ISDS can be used to bully governments into backing down. After decades of inaction, the world simply cannot afford fossil fuel companies using ISDS to sue the world into climate paralysis.

Communities at the frontlines of the climate crisis are often at the heart of ISDS claims through struggles against destructive mining and other extractive projects.

We must urgently get rid of the ISDS system. The evidence of years of damage to the environment, land, health and self-determination of peoples all around the world is stark, and the renewed urgency of the climate imperative is beyond doubt. Reform proposals are weak, ineffective and totally inadequate for what is needed. Governments must take immediate action to put an end to the risks of ISDS.

We know this can be done, because some countries have started doing so. Countries such as South Africa, India, New Zealand, Bolivia, Tanzania, Canada and the US have all taken steps toward getting rid of ISDS.

Practical options for action include:

  • Stop:

    • negotiating, signing or ratifying any new agreements that include ISDS, such as EU deals with Mexico and Chile

    • joining existing agreements that include ISDS, such as the ECT (Energy Charter Treaty), CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) or CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership)

    • extending existing agreements to include ISDS, such as RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) or AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area)

  • Terminate or exit existing agreements with ISDS, such as the ECT

  • Withdraw from, and withhold consent to, the use of ISDS

  • Explore alternatives to ISDS including investment risk insurance, international collaboration to strengthen domestic legal systems, and human rights mechanisms

As countries gather for COP 27, we call on governments to commit to remove the threat that ISDS poses to climate goals by getting rid of this unjust and dangerous system.

[1] IISD, Investor-state disputes in the fossil fuel industry, 2021.

[2] AFP, “Governments risk ‘trillions’ in fossil fuel climate litigationFrance 24, 2021.

[3] IPCC, Climate change 2022: mitigation of climate change, 2022, p14-72 & p14-81

[4] Elizabeth Meager, “Cop26 targets pushed back under threat of being sued” Capital Monitor, 2022