The landmark investigation looking into the human rights violations of 47 coal, oil, gas and cement companies to the Filipino people will conclude with a two-day hearing. If successful, it could become the first legal finding of corporate responsibility for human rights in the age of the climate crisis.
Greenpeace South-East Asia, Amnesty International, Oxfam International, and typhoon survivors are among the witnesses who will testify at the sixth and final hearings, which take place on the 11-12 December, a day after International Human Rights Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) announced to be set to proceed with its formal inquiry hearing starting Tuesday, 27 March 2018, as a response to a petition seeking to investigate so-called “carbon majors” for allegedly contributing to climate change and its impact on the rights of the Filipino people.
“The inquiry asks if climate change impacts human rights and, if so, whether ‘carbon majors’ have a responsibility for it,” said Commissioner Roberto Eugenio T. Cadiz, who chairs the said national inquiry.
The petition was filed by typhoon victims, human rights groups, and concerned citizens before the CHR, seeking to frame climate change as a human rights issue.
Carbon major companies are producers of oil, natural gas, coal and cement. Most of them are non-state, transnational entities.
“The Commission, mindful of its general mandate to uphold human rights in the Philippines, accepted the petition as the Constitution directs it to investigate and monitor all matters concerning the human rights of the Filipino people,” Commissioner Cadiz added.
The inquiry, fully entitled as “National Inquiry on the Impact of Climate Change on the Rights of the Filipino People and the Responsibility therefor, if any, of the ‘Carbon Majors,’” also seeks to promote the notion that businesses have an obligation to respect human rights, as enunciated under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Commissioner Cadiz, however, clarified that the Commission fully recognizes the principle of territoriality in regard to the exercise of jurisdiction over any state or party and does not attempt to disregard the same. It merely seeks to inquire if climate change impacts human rights and, if so, whether the “carbon majors” (and other duty bearers) have a responsibility therefor.
The national inquiry process consists of: research and data gathering (site visits, fact-finding missions, community dialogues, and consultations with experts and other National Human Rights Institutions); public hearings; and developing recommendations.
Community dialogues, in particular, seek to gather anecdotal evidence from individuals on the impacts of severe/extreme weather disturbances on their communities.
The Commission had already conducted activities vital to the ongoing inquiry, such as fact-finding missions in Tacloban, Tanuanan, Libon, and Ilagan. The Commission have conducted more of these fact-finding missions and community dialogues within the first half of 2018.
Apart from the hearing this 27-28 March at the CHR Session Hall in the Commission’s central office in Quezon City, the succeeding hearings had been scheduled as follows:
|23-24 May 2018||CHR Session Hall|
|19-20 June 2018||CHR Session Hall|
|29-30 August 2018||CHR Session Hall|
|24-28 September 2018||New York (exact venue TBA)|
|16-17 October 2018||CHR Session Hall|
|05-09 November 2018||London School of Economics|
|11-12 December 2018||CHR Session Hall|
Commissioner Cadiz noted that the inquiry hearing process shall be dialogic, rather than adversarial, without sacrificing due process of law. “The inquiry, it is hoped, would result in the improvement and/or development of measures to further protect and promote human rights in this era of climate change,” Commissioner Cadiz said.
“As a lifelong human rights and social justice campaigner, it is clear to me that you cannot talk about the climate change crisis without recognizing that it is also an inequality and discrimination issue,” said Kumi Naidoo Secretary General of Amnesty International who will be speaking at the hearing. “While this is the final chapter in the investigation, it is the beginning of a new global movement of communities demanding protection of their human rights from the climate crisis and accountability of those responsible for it.”
UNDER THE SPOT
Fossil fuel companies began to be under the spotlight as hearings began in the Philippines into their contribution to human rights harms resulting from climate change.
Youth, scientists, and legal experts were among those to testify in what is the world’s first national human rights investigation of its kind into the ‘Carbon Majors’ – 47 investor-owned carbon and cement producers, among them Shell, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ENI, ExxonMobil, Glencore, OMV, Repsol, Sasol, Suncor, Total and RWE.
“We can no longer ignore the impact of significant changes in global temperatures and the rising sea levels on people’s lives. We have been witness ourselves in this country to a spate of natural disasters and supertyphoons such as Ondoy, Sendong, Pablo and of course Yolanda, with grave consequences. Some of the survivors and victims of these disasters who have directly suffered from them are here with us today,” said Chair of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Jose Luis Martin “Chito” C. Gascon, at the opening of the first hearing session.
investigation has the potential to shift global understanding of corporate responsibility for climate change, bringing attention to the role of fossil fuel companies in creating the climate crisis. The petitioners aim to set the record straight by demonstrating that the coal, oil, and gas companies are the most responsible for the climate crisis and must take action to prevent further harm resulting from impacts.
“Justice must be delivered to the communities living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Their basic rights to food, water, shelter, health, and even life are under threat from climate change,” said Amalie Obusan, Philippines Country Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “It is the fossil fuel companies who hold the lion’s share of responsibility for climate change and the harms it creates, and they can and must be held accountable.”
“This petition is both a moral and legal plea to address climate change as one of the greatest threats to human rights of our time and an opportunity to uphold the rule of law where corporate actors that have contributed to climate change and knew about the foreseeable harms caused by climate change have a responsibility to respect human rights,” said Lisa Hamilton, Director of the Energy and Climate Program of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and one of the expert witnesses.
Ms. Rica Diamzon Cahilig, an Indigenous Peoples youth leader, was among those who are opening the first day of the public hearings to share how climate change has impacted her family, education, and even the cultural tradition of pagdadanso, which is on the verge of extinction. “We used to be able to go to the mountains when food is unavailable in the city. But we cannot do that now,” Cahilig shared in Filipino.
More hearings have been scheduled in the Philippines, the US and Europe in the coming months. The Petitioners hope that the Commission will conclude its investigation by the end of this year and issue its resolution in early 2019.
Since the filing of the petition in 2015 and five public inquiry hearings held throughout this year, all of the companies have so far failed to show up and meaningfully participate. Initially, the companies fought to get the investigation dismissed, but the communities prevailed after the Commission determined in December 2017 that it had the authority to conduct the inquiry.
“This investigation is becoming a depository of evidence on fossil fuel denial and deceit. Thousands of pages of statements and evidence are now on the record, and the public will be able to see why we are facing worsening heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, and storms. More importantly, who are primarily responsible,” said Yeb Sano, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and a petitioner who will also testify at the hearing.
“The refusal by these carbon majors to appear at any of the public hearings is yet another example of a breach in these companies’ corporate responsibility and respect for human rights.”
2018 has been a landmark year in global climate litigation. Impacted people and U.S. cities, counties, and two states are seeking to hold oil, gas, and coal companies accountable over climate change. Other cases include: the historic Urgenda victory in the Netherlands; an action brought by Greenpeace Germany and three farming families; Greenpeace Poland’s announcement of its intention to sue Europe’s second largest coal utility over climate change; and Quebec’s new youth lawsuit against the Canadian government. See Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment database and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s databases for an overview of cases Recently, the Pacific island nation, Vanuatu, announced it is looking into options to sue the world’s most polluting fossil fuel corporations and countries facilitating the industry for their roles in creating catastrophic climate change.
Furthermore, the public hearings serve as a platform for communities on the frontlines of climate impacts to share their stories of the harms they are suffering, the risks they face, and why they are seeking climate justice.
“The storm changed our lives. I lost my parents and two brothers, and had to support myself and my siblings who survived through it. I speak not only to share my story, but also on behalf of vulnerable communities who experience the tremendous losses that we suffer through storms like Sendong,” said Honeylyn Gonzales, survivor of 2011’s Typhoon Washi (Filipino name Sendong), which caused more than 1,000 casualties.
The final hearing also takes place during the mid-way point of COP 24 and less than two months after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered an alarming assessment on the massive and urgent task needed to limit global warming.
The petitioners anticipate that the Commission will issue a report and resolution in mid-2019.