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30 Apr 2024

Isabella Kaminski, DeSmog

IACHR urged to reaffirm the duty of businesses to respect human rights in the context of climate change

"Top Human Rights Court Urged to Tackle Corporate Climate Crimes", 30 April 2024

In a landmark hearing at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, legal experts and campaigners argued that businesses, such as the fossil fuel and agriculture industries, have legal duties to stop climate-related human-rights breaches.

A panel of six judges met starting April 23 in Barbados at the University of West Indies for the hearing, which was dubbed “The climate emergency and human rights.” It opened with statements from Chile and Colombia, which had requested that the court provide an advisory opinion on climate change and human rights in 2023...

Legal experts dominated the three-day hearing, held from April 23 to 25. Nikki Reisch, climate and energy director at the Center for International Environmental Law, argued that businesses have legal obligations to stop causing climate-related harms, whether or not governments are fulfilling their own obligations.

“It’s not possible to guarantee human rights without combating climate change,” said Reisch. “And it’s not possible to combat climate change without regulating business conduct, specifically the climate-destructive conduct of those industries that are the primary drivers of greenhouse gas emissions: the fossil fuel and agro-industrial sectors.”...

Reisch outlined the decades-long campaign of climate obstruction and deception conducted by the fossil fuel industry, agribusiness, and other large corporate actors, and told the court that governments were responsible for ensuring full and adequate reparation for the harms caused by such corporate conduct. “To fulfill their human rights obligations in the context of the climate emergency, states must confront the industries driving it and curb their capture of climate policy.”

Reisch’s comments were echoed by Sophie Marjanac, accountable corporations lead at the environmental law charity ClientEarth. Marjanac pointed to the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which set out state obligations to regulate companies to avoid human rights offenses “even when business activities are not prohibited in international law.”...

UN experts have said states must enact climate due diligence rules over every part of a business’s activities to comply with the UN Guiding Principles, and last year sent a letter of concern to Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco, saying its expansion and ongoing exploration of fossil fuels threaten human rights...

Marjanac also made the case to the court that governments were responsible for regulating all emissions generated by companies registered within their borders — including their broader Scope 3 emissions — as well as emissions from the extraction of fossil fuels within their territory that are sold onto the global market, and from fossil fuels financed by the state or by financial institutions registered there.

A recognition of this by the court “would close a significant loophole in international climate change law and confirm that states are responsible under international human rights law for the acts and omissions which facilitate the sale of fossil fuels on the global market,” said Marjanac. “Such a finding is also necessary to ensure that state measures are capable of being effective.”..."