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12 Feb 2018

Geoff Dembicki, VICE

Petitioners in Philippines continue efforts to hold "carbon majors" accountable for negative impacts of climate change on human rights

"The Woman Going After Big Energy for the Typhoon that Killed her Family."

[In 2013, Typhoon] Haiyan destroyed the city of Tacloban and many of the surrounding communities. It killed over 6,300 people, including [Joanna] Sustento’s mother, father, brother, sister, and nephew... “That’s one myth that the big polluters have been feeding us, that [climate change] is everyone’s fault,” [according to] Sustento. “We need to go directly to the people who started it.”

... A human rights commission in the Philippines is trying to settle once and for all the issue of blame [for climate change]. It will be holding public hearings in the US, Europe, and the Philippines this year is to answer...: Should the 47 “carbon majors,” the biggest investor-owned greenhouse gas emitters in the world, be held accountable for fatalities and destruction linked to their business model?... Greenpeace and other civil society groups presented their argument in a 2015 petition to the Commission on Human Rights. They pointed to calculations from climate researcher Richard Heede showing Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP and several dozen other “carbon majors” are responsible for 22 percent of all human carbon emissions. And they cited science linking those emissions to crop failures, rising seas, ocean acidification, and disasters like Haiyan... The Commission on Human Rights reviewed the petition and agreed to hold an inquiry. In doing so it was making history. “This kind of case has been filed before other national human rights institutions but they all rejected it,” Commissioner Cadiz explained. “But [we] said, ‘Alright, we are willing to be the first.’” Reactions from the companies under investigation were varied. Many ignored a request in 2016 to provide input. Some listed their investments in clean technologies. And others—including ConocoPhillips, which made several legal challenges to the commission’s jurisdiction—effectively tried to shut the investigation down.

... The Philippines Commission on Human Rights is not a court. It can’t make legal rulings. All it can do is provide an opinion about whether these 47 corporations committed human rights abuses—and map a path to justice for the victims... [Yet] some believe this case has the potential to transform our understanding of climate change from a distant scientific threat for which we are all partially responsible to deadly chaos accelerated by 47 corporations... “Lawyers learn from each other,” [said] John Knox, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment. “If the Philippines Commission on Human Rights is able to make a persuasive case… then you would expect to see those arguments appearing in other forums.” For companies like Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and BP, it increases the risk of lawsuits and regulations that could cost them trillions of dollars.