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typhoon damage in the philippines in 2019

Residents walk past a house damaged during Typhoon Phanfone in Tacloban, Leyte province in the central Philippines on December 25, 2019. (Photo: Bobbie Alota/AFP via Getty Images)

Landmark Inquiry in Philippines Backs Accountability for 'Climate-Polluting' Corporations

"The findings of the Commission on Human Rights are a vindication for the millions of people whose fundamental rights are being impacted by the corporations behind the climate crisis."

Jessica Corbett

Campaigners within and beyond the Philippines on Friday applauded a new government report that backs accountability for major polluters driving the climate emergency and its associated negative impacts on human rights.

"We enjoin all Filipinos to stand up for climate and environmental justice, and ensure our elected officials in the next administration take this to heart."

Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Yeb Saño—a former climate negotiator for the Philippines—was among those who welcomed the conclusions of the country's Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and called for action in a statement Thursday.

"The findings of the Commission on Human Rights are a vindication for the millions of people whose fundamental rights are being impacted by the corporations behind the climate crisis," he said. "This report is historic and sets a solid legal basis for asserting that climate-destructive business activities by fossil fuel and cement companies contribute to human rights harms."

Saño said the CHR "sets a courageous example for other similar institutions and governments around the world," and that "alongside our co-petitioners, we are calling on the incoming Philippine government and world leaders to adopt the commission's findings and hold big polluters responsible for the climate-damaging impacts of their business activities."

"We expect the government to urgently act on these findings," he added, "and work on people-centered policies that will hold climate-polluting businesses accountable, prevent further harm, usher in the energy transition, and ensure a just, safe, sustainable, and peaceful future for the people."

As former CHR Commissioner Roberto Cadiz—whose term ended Thursday—explained in the preface of the report, the commission was petitioned in 2015 to conduct an inquiry into the claim that "climate change was adversely impacting human rights and the top oil producers of the world were contributing, and knowingly continue to contribute, to this phenomenon."

The petition was the first of its kind to be accepted by a national human rights institution (NHRI) for investigation, the document notes—also highlighting the significance that it was conducted by a commission based in the Philippines, which endures roughly 20 typhoons each year.

For its inquiry, the commission held 12 public hearings in 2018, some in the Philippines and others around the world. As the report outlines, CHR's key findings include that "climate change is real," is caused by human activity, and "is a human rights issue."

The commission also determined that humanity's contributions to the crisis are "quantifiable and substantial" and that carbon majors not only "had early awareness, notice, or knowledge of their products' adverse impacts on the environment and climate systems" but also "engaged in willful obfuscation and obstruction to prevent meaningful climate action."

The Philippine news outlet Rappler reported that "climate change is real" was the first thing Cadiz said at a Friday press conference, echoing the report. He added that "the fact alone that human activity contributes to climate change makes the duty and the responsibility of the parties to address this."

Taking aim at carbon majors, Cadiz further declared that "their acts of obstruction, obfuscation are immoral given the existential threat posed to humanity by climate change."

The CHR document details adverse effects on the Philippines specifically, outlining how the climate emergency impacts the rights to life, health, food security, water and sanitation, livelihood, adequate housing, preservation of culture, self-determination and development, equality and nondiscrimination, and a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, as well as the rights of future generations and intergenerational equity.

The publication concludes with recommendations for governments, polluters, the financial sector, the United Nations and other international bodies, NHRIs, courts, civil society, and global citizens. There is a section dedicated to suggestions for the Philippine government, which the report says "exhibits mediocre actions to meet the Paris agreement climate commitments."

"While long overdue, this report by the CHR provides supporting arguments for holding corporations accountable for their climate transgressions."

As Rappler summarized, "For the Philippines, the CHR made bold recommendations: Penalize big polluters, stop fossil fuel and coal dependence, and lead the way toward a renewable future."

Petitioners on Friday similarly urged the Philippine government to take ambitious climate action.

"The CHR findings should embolden impacted communities to seek remedies in courts for the injustice caused by corporate global emissions that have primarily caused climate change," said EcoWaste Coalition national coordinator Aileen Lucero. "We enjoin all Filipinos to stand up for climate and environmental justice, and ensure our elected officials in the next administration take this to heart."

Von Hernandez, a 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize awardee and global coordinator of Break Free from Plastic, said that "while long overdue, this report by the CHR provides supporting arguments for holding corporations accountable for their climate transgressions which impinge on the rights of citizens."

"As a petitioner, I feel the outcome of this process could have been much stronger and groundbreaking," Hernandez added. "It just means that our struggle for climate justice continues and we hope the next administration gives this issue the real importance it deserves."


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