Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Demonstrators in Manila marching for climate justice in November 2015. (Photo: Noel Celis/Getty Images)

Landmark Human Rights Complaint Lodged Against World's Worst Polluters

In unprecedented case, Filipino governmental body accuses carbon-polluting corporations of violating people's rights to "life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self determination"

Nika Knight Beauchamp

The world's 47 largest producers of greenhouse gases must respond within 45 days to an unprecedented legal complaint filed Wednesday by the Philippines, which alleges the fossil fuel behemoths have deprived millions of residents of the island nation of their human rights through catastrophic global warming.

"We just want to live a decent and peaceful life, without fear and being at the mercy of big corporations that only care for their profits."
—Veronica "Derek" Cabe, Petitioner
The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR), a governmental body, sent the multinational "carbon majors" a 60-page letter (pdf) accusing them of "breaching people"s fundamental rights to 'life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self determination,'" the Guardian reports.

"The commission's actions are unprecedented. For the first time, a national human rights body is officially taking steps to address the impacts of climate change on human rights and the responsibility of private actors," Zelda Soriano, legal and political adviser for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, one of the groups that brought the complaint to the CHR, told the newspaper.

"This is an important building block in establishing the moral and legal 'precedent' that big polluters can be held responsible for current and threatened human rights infringements resulting from fossil fuel products," Soriano added.

The Philippines has been one of the countries hardest hit by the effects of climate change.

The Guardian reports:

Four of its most devastating super-cyclones have occurred in the last decade, and the country has recorded increasingly severe floods and heatwaves that have been linked to man-made global warming.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing 650,000 others in 2013.

The legal complaint has been brought by typhoon survivors and non-governmental organisations and is supported by more than 31,000 Filipinos.

"We've been affected for so long by storms, droughts…by extreme weather, now made worse by climate change. We just want to live a decent and peaceful life, without fear and being at the mercy of big corporations that only care for their profits," said Veronica "Derek" Cabe, who joined the complaint from Bataan, a province where "communities are fighting against coal storage facilities and proposals for a new coal-fired power plant and where one of the community leaders advocating against coal was shot dead on 1 July 2016," as Greenpeace International writes.

"Our only choice is to defend our rights," Cabe continued. "We want those most responsible to be held accountable. We want justice and to regain the ability to protect the little that we have left for our children."

"Ultimately, those who have profited most from pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere must bear the burden of preventing the havoc already being wreaked by climate change."
—Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International

The letter was addressed to corporations "responsible for the majority of fossil fuel products that have been manufactured, marketed, and sold since the industrial revolution and have contributed the lion's share of cumulative global emissions of industrial CO2 and methane," Greenpeace International notes.

Those included Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and many other oil, gas, concrete manufacturing, and mining behemoths.

The companies were chosen based on research (pdf) by Richard Heede, director of the U.S.-based Climate Accountability Institute. In 2013, Heede calculated that "a mere 90 companies, some private and some state-owned, account for a full two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions that are now driving perilous rates of global warming," as Common Dreams reported.

"Ultimately, those who have profited most from pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere must bear the burden of preventing the havoc already being wreaked by climate change. This is the first step in that process," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, in a press statement.

"The courageous Filipino people are the first to put the world's largest carbon producers on notice that they must account for their emissions," Morgan said.

The Guardian observes that the CHR "is not a court and would have no power to force companies to reduce emissions or fine them. However, it can make recommendations to government and would add to the worldwide pressure to persuade shareholders to divest from heavy carbon emitters."

And this complaint is the latest in a rising tide of climate change cases "being brought against governments and corporations," the newspaper notes.

Once the companies' responses are received, Greenpeace says, hearings will begin in the Philippines in October 2016.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

GOP Silence on Trump's Call to Axe Constitution Reveals 'Full Embrace of Fascism': House Dem

"Last week the leader of the Republican Party had dinner with a Nazi leader and a man who called Adolf Hitler 'great,'" said Rep. Bill Pascrell. "Yesterday Trump called for throwing out the Constitution and making himself dictator."

Kenny Stancil ·


Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo