Press release (March 2018)

Experts: Human Rights Body Should Investigate Carbon Majors’ Role in Climate Crisis

As Landmark Hearing Convenes, Scientists, Lawyers, and Human Rights Experts Say the Philippines Human Rights Commission has Jurisdiction, Evidentiary Basis, and Duty to Act


March 27, 2018

Quezon City, Philippines – Today, the Philippine Human Rights Commission holds the first public hearing in its landmark inquiry into the responsibility of 47 investor-owned fossil fuel companies for human rights violations resulting from the impacts of climate change.

A group of scientific, human rights, and legal experts from around the world has submitted a Joint Summary of the Amicus Curiae Briefs in support of the Commission’s inquiry. The Joint Summary presents key findings and messages from 10 underlying amicus curiae briefs submitted to the Commission during the proceedings. It draws on a range of sources and authorities, including the best available science, emerging evidence of corporate conduct and knowledge, the international law of human rights, and established principles of common law, international law, and norms, to support the petition against the Carbon Majors by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, 13 accompanying NGOs, and 18 individuals.

A joint statement accompanying the briefing emphasizes the extensive body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence demonstrating that “climate change is causing severe environmental, economic, and social impacts at current levels of planetary warming.”

“As the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan prove all too clearly, climate change is already resulting in adverse impacts to human lives and impairments of human rights across the Philippines.”

These findings are relevant to the Commission’s inquiry into whether the respondent companies’ contributions to climate change violated Filipinos’ human rights to life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, self-determination, and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The hearing comes as many of these companies face inquiries and litigation in a growing number of jurisdictions beyond the Philippines, including Germany and the United States.

The amici emphasized the vital need for the Commission’s inquiry in the face of mounting human impacts from climate change. “Given these immense human rights impacts,” the amici note, “it is equally important that people have access to justice.”

“Though the present inquiry is not judicial in nature, the Commission’s findings and recommendations can play a vital role in bringing the truth to light, laying the foundations for accountability, and respecting, protecting, and promoting human rights in the Philippines and beyond.”

The Joint Summary, including a complete list of the amici organizations and experts is available online at here. The Sabin Center’s amicus brief submitted in 2016 can be found at here.

 Statements from Amici Experts

 Jessica Wentz, Staff Attorney, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

“As the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan prove all too clearly, climate change is already affecting human lives and human rights across the Philippines. Some of the greatest threats to lives and livelihoods include projected increases in storm intensity, extreme rainfall, flooding, and landslides; sea level rise (which will exacerbate coastal flooding impacts); and the possibility of more severe and prolonged droughts brought about by a warming climate. The severity of these impacts is directly linked to the quantity of greenhouse emissions released into the atmosphere—with fossil fuel use being the primary source of those emissions—and the Carbon Majors are well aware of this fact. This proceeding addresses the fundamental legal question of whether and to what extent the Carbon Majors will be held accountable for their contribution to climate change and the corresponding human rights impacts.”

Dr. James E. Hansen

“The Carbon Majors, the fossil fuel titans, have pedaled their products so successfully that our children, their progeny, and much of the natural world are sorely threatened by growing climate impacts. The Human Rights Commission’s investigation is more than warranted; it is overdue. Fossil fuel titans must be held to account. At the very least, their CEOs should sit before the Commission and assume a measure of responsibility for the damages they have wrought.”

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, Climate Scientist

“It is generally understood that human-induced climate change causes global warming, but what is not adequately appreciated are the direct influences on heavy rainfalls, drought, and storms, at great cost to society and the environment. When thresholds are crossed, things break and damage increases enormously.”

Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

“The Carbon Majors have known for decades that their business contributes to climate change. Worldwide, climate change impacts violate fundamental human rights, disproportionately affecting disadvantaged and vulnerable populations and children and future generations who will experience increasingly severe impacts over time. Given these immense human rights impacts, it is vitally important that people have access to justice and remedy. This groundbreaking proceeding before the Commission presents one such critically important avenue.”

Sophie Marjanac, Australian-qualified lawyer, ClientEarth

“This is a huge moment in the fight for climate accountability. These companies are the biggest fossil fuel producers in the world. Their activities over the past 50 years and more have contributed to climate change, and made life increasingly dangerous for the people of the Philippines and around the world. Climate change threatens human rights and must be seen through this lens – the investigation will set an important new global precedent. We hope that the Commission will find that governments and companies must act now to protect citizens from worsening extreme weather, rising seas, and ocean acidification.”

Jennifer Gleason, Staff Attorney, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW)

“The Commission’s investigation will give those in the Philippines whose lives have been shattered by climate change an opportunity to be heard, and an opportunity to learn the truth about the role that fossil fuel companies have played.”

Elizabeth Brown, Attorney & Global Program Manager, Our Children’s Trust

“The Commission has a unique opportunity to establish the standard by which climate change-related human rights violations (by both industry and government) can be assessed and remedied. To have any chance to stop the melting ice sheets and dangerous climate storms like Typhoon Haiyan, and thus protect young people and future generations across the Philippines and the world, such a standard must be based on the best, most up-to-date science for redressing the planet’s energy imbalance. The best science says we must reduce dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2 to below 350 ppm by 2100 in order to limit the long-term average global temperature increase to less than 1°C above preindustrial temperatures.”

Tim Crosland, Director, Plan B

“Who should bear responsibility for the tragic losses already suffered by the Filipino people? Who should pay the price of adaptation to prevent worse still to come? The Filipino people themselves, who have contributed so little to the problem? Or companies who have made astronomical profits while actively misrepresenting the known risks? These are among the critical questions for the Honourable Commission’s consideration.”