Carbon majors can be sued due to climate crisis – CHR

May 6, 2022

Fossil fuel corporations can be held liable for human rights violations due to their role in causing the climate crisis, the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) announced in a press briefing on May 6.

“The obligation to address climate change is also a responsibility of private enterprises,” said CHR Commissioner Roberto Eugenio T. Cadiz.

This is one of the major findings of the agency’s National Inquiry on Climate Change (NICC) that investigated the responsibility of said corporations or “carbon majors” for human rights violations of this nature.

It is the first case to be accepted by a national human rights institution that frames climate change as a human rights issue.

The inquiry also found that “carbon majors did engage in willful obfuscation of climate science and obstruction of effort towards a global transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy”, acts that Cadiz described as “immoral”.

After seven years and a dozen inquiries, the CHR report confirmed the climate crisis as both a human rights and business issue, due to the pollutive activities of carbon majors and how it impacts the well-being of communities. Violation or threats to hinder exercising basic rights, including the right to life, were cited as among the potential basis for litigation against these corporations. 

The report said States also have the responsibility to protect their citizens’ rights that are related to addressing the climate crisis. Cadiz cited international human rights and customary laws as part of the basis for their duty.

“We find that deliberate obstinacy to engage in positive action, in line of scientific evidence, could be equated as violations of human rights of their citizens,” he added.

Cadiz stated that liabilities of carbon majors now have to be proven in court, bounded by domestic laws. He referred to potential grounds for litigation the obfuscation and obstruction of information by corporations, failure to uphold transparency in their practices, and conduct by board members and company officials detrimental to shareholders and investors.

“The impact will depend on those who will be receiving the report,” he said.

What do the petitioners think?

Green groups celebrated the release of the NICC findings. In an online post, Greenpeace Philippines, one of the petitioners that triggered the inquiry, called the findings of the report a “people’s victory”.

According to Naderev Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the whole process was to “highlight the connection between the most basic human right and climate change.” He emphasized the imperative to protect the well-being of those gravely affected by the climate crisis, which the Philippines is one of the nations at the highest risk.

“We cannot discuss climate change in isolation of people’s dignity”, Saño said.

The report presents cases that highlight how vulnerable communities experience the gravest effects of all environmental attacks, which was referenced in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. These include statements of victims of devastating storms such as Yolanda and Sendong.

Marinel Ubaldo, ecological justice advocate of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and Yolanda survivor, regarded the report as “a big win not just for the Filipino people, but for all vulnerable communities and marginalized sectors in the world.”

The youngest of the petitioners, Ubaldo said that the climate justice fight in the Philippines is only beginning. She emphasized the importance of the upcoming national elections in determining whether the NICC findings would translate into meaningful change.

“The next president has a crucial role to play in making sure that the hard work of the Filipino people for climate justice will be continued in court, and that justice will be served for people and communities who have suffered and are still bearing the brunt of the climate crisis,” she said.

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