In a landmark case, the Philippines Commission on Human Rights is investigating 47 ‘carbon majors’ for their impact on climate change.
Stakeholders want the companies to be held accountable for their carbon emissions.
Madonna Virola has more.
Rosemari Trajano is the secretary general of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, one of the 14 petitioning organizations at the heart of this case.
A historic petition filed to the national Commission on Human Rights, or the CHR, against 47 carbon majors – that is 47 companies with huge carbon emissions. Companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell.
Those who signed say these carbon majors should be held liable for their emissions.
“It is important to understand how climate change affects human rights, like food, health, life, livelihood. This has a big impact on the next generations.”
Rosemari continued, “The United Nations has guidelines for states and companies on business and human rights. It ensures mechanisms to have redress and compensation on victims of violators of the environment.”
Together with Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the petitioners have researched several cases they say shows how climate change and carbon emissions impact human rights.
The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and one of the countries in the world that is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate impacts.
Lerissa Libao from Quezon province, northern Philippines, explains why she signed.
“It’s through fulltime farming that we were able to have all our five children graduate from college. Until extreme heat and cold have destroyed our vegetable and fruit production.
“We have turned to organic farming and government assistance but it is not enough. We decided to join the petition to see corporations implement environment-friendly practices that care for the next generations,” Lerissa says.
In July this year, the CHR asked oil, coal, mining and cement companies to comment on, or answer the human rights allegations made in the petition.
Almost half have responded, including questions on jurisdiction, with an extension of the first original deadline. Petitioners will submit their consolidated reply this February.
Robert Cadiz is a commissioner leading the hearing of the petition. I got him on the phone in his busy schedule from Manila to find out more.
“CHR will be calling its own independent witnesses to help us understand the issues, because climate change is a new field for us and we want to be able to hear other parties aside from the witnesses of both sides which must be regarded as partisan.
“The issues that we will be listening to are not just climate issues but also legal issues concerning jurisdiction, legal theories that connect climate change to human rights. There’s no legal precedent that we can look at which we can use as a model in pursuing this case,” explained Cadiz.
The full legal investigation is scheduled on April 2017 and will webcasted because of its global significance.
Commissioner Cadiz see prospects in the case.
“Essentially, this is not an adversarial proceeding, a confrontational process where at end of the day you have a winner and a loser because that is not the mandate of CHR, but more a mandate of regular courts.”
“We see here a more collaborative process, more of a dialogue or a discourse where parties at end of the proceeding will be able to come up with an agreement as to ways forward whether in terms of policies that the governments can adopt or weather in terms of procedures, companies can come up to mitigate carbon emissions,” Cadiz stated.
Greenpeace says this case is one of the many people-powered legal initiatives around the globe, from indigenous peoples in Canada, to farmers in Peru and Pakistan.
In June this year, the Netherlands’ high court ruled on the world’s first climate liability suit, ordering the Dutch government to take stronger action against climate change to better protect its citizens.
The case reminded me of the words of Filipino climate change champion Yeb Sano, who I met earlier this year.
“As long as companies and governments fail to act on climate change,” he says, “Every day is human rights day.”