Environmental activists on Friday criticised a compromise deal negotiated by the EU to update a decades-old agreement allowing energy firms to sue governments for hitting their profits.
The Energy Charter Treaty -- involving 52 nations mainly from Central Asia and Europe -- was signed in 1994 to protect energy investments in volatile ex-Soviet countries.
The European Union has pushed to rejig the deal to halt legal actions from investors and companies that could jeopardise ambitious climate goals.
Negotiators in Brussels on Friday struck a tentative agreement to alter the treaty after two years of talks that the European Commission insisted "ensures a high level of investment protection while reflecting clean energy transition goals".
The compromise allows for new fossil fuel investments to be excluded from protections and institutes a 10 year phase out period for protections on existing investments.
But climate groups slammed the loopholes left in the update and said that they could put at risk efforts to curb global heating.
"With a 10-year phase out period for fossil fuel investments, EU countries could still be sued for putting in place progressive climate policies for at least another decade -- the key window for action if humanity is to avoid climate catastrophe," said Amandine Van Den Berghe, a lawyer for ClientEarth climate charity.
The Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe accused Brussels of "greenwashing reform of this unsustainable treaty" despite opposition from EU lawmakers, and member states Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
"It's unbelievable the EU agreed to lock in fossil protection for at least another decade," said CAN expert Cornelia Maarfield.
"This means countries will continue to spend taxpayers' money in compensating fossil fuel companies rather than fighting climate change and moving to a renewable energy system."
Friday's agreement in principle will come into force in November if none of the signatories object, but still has to be approved on the EU side by the European Parliament and member states.
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