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23 Mär 2018

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Can Philippines storm survivors hold companies to account for climate damage?

Veronica Cabe still remembers every minute of the more than 12 hours she and her family spent huddled on the roof of their two-storey home in Manila in 2009, as floodwaters swept past, carrying dead bodies, animal carcasses and coffins... In 2015, she became a petitioner in a landmark complaint - soon to be examined by a national inquiry - which accuses global oil, mining and cement companies of human rights violations by playing a role in driving climate change... The Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent body set up by the government, agreed in 2015 to conduct an inquiry, and will hold its first public hearings next week in Manila, followed by additional hearings in London and New York... Oil giants Chevron and BP, and miner Rio Tinto are among the so-called “carbon majors” cited in the petition. The three companies did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The inquiry is the first time a government agency has accepted, and acted on, a request for investigation of the environmental responsibility of companies that sell or are heavy users of fossil fuels, according to Zelda Soriano, an attorney with Greenpeace Southeast Asia... The commission can only make recommendations to Philippine legislators and the business world, and has no enforcement powers. But Soriano said the inquiry would set “a precedent”, and the commission’s resolution and proposed measures would add weight “to every existing and future climate-change litigation case in any part of the world, no matter the outcome”. The Philippines complaint complements a global upsurge in legal challenges seeking redress for climate-change impacts... The climate-change hearings in the Philippines come amid rising instances of violence against activists trying to protect the country’s environment. The Philippines recorded the highest number of such attacks in Asia last year.