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Climate and Environment

States, businesses have moral obligations to address climate crisis, CHR says in landmark report

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
States, businesses have moral obligations to address climate crisis, CHR says in landmark report
This undated handout photo from Greenpeace Philippines shows the banner saying, "To the next president, stand for climate justice!"
Jilson Tiu/Greenpeace

MANILA, Philippines — The willful obfuscation of fossil fuel companies and cement companies of the risks posed by climate change, and the obstruction of efforts toward a global transition to renewable energy are immoral, the Commission on Human Rights said in its long-awaited report on corporate responsibility for the climate crisis.

The CHR finally released Friday a report on its inquiry into the responsibilities of carbon majors in producing greenhouse gasses that cause climate change. The 160-page report highlights the obligations of governments and businesses in tackling climate change, which is also a human rights issue. 

“Based on evidence presented before us, we are convinced that so-called carbon majors did engage in willful obfuscation of climate science and obstruction of efforts toward global transition from fossil fuel to clean renewable energy,” former CHR commissioner Roberto Cadiz said. The term of CHR commissioners ended on May 5.

“On the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights, at the very least, their acts of obstruction and obfuscation are immoral given the existential threat posed to humanity by climate change,” he added. 

The commissioner also stressed that the deliberate obstinacy on the part of governments to address climate change could be equated as a violation of citizens' human rights. 

“States also have a moral responsibility because they have earned billions, trillions of dollars in profits from fossil fuel... [They have the] moral responsibility to lead the global effort to scale up clean energy,” Cadiz said. 

Why does this report matter?  

In the report, the country’s national human rights institution pointed out that climate change is real, is caused by humans, and is a business and human rights issue.

“Why is climate change a human rights issue? Because of the negative impacts that climate change has on practically the whole gamut of human rights from the basic rights down to collective human rights,” Cadiz said.

The landmark climate litigation stemmed from the petition filed by civil society organizations and typhoon survivors in 2015, which asked the commission to investigate the responsibilities of carbon majors such as Shell, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Total for human rights impacts aggravated by climate change.

The petition was the second attempt to frame climate change as a human rights issue, and the first of such kind to be accepted by a national human rights institution for investigation.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines Executive Director Yeb Saño said the findings of the CHR report are a “victory for the millions of people whose fundamental rights are being impacted by the corporations behind the climate crisis.”

“The message is clear: there are legal grounds for communities to hold corporations accountable for undermining climate action.”

While there is no international instrument that will hold businesses accountable for human rights violations related to climate change, the CHR said the findings of its report can help clarify rules in international law about human rights and climate change. 

“The impact will depend on those who will be receiving the report. We imagine some national human rights institutions will take due notice of our findings and see our process as an example to them. They may also conduct their own national inquiries and they can make their own recommendations specific to their own governments,” it said. 

The CHR inquiry took place from 2015 to 2018, with public hearings conducted in Manila, New York and London.

CHR recommendations

“Businesses play a big role in this anthropogenic activity. States have an obligation, businesses have a responsibility to address these challenges,” Cadiz said.

Faced with catastrophic cyclones and sea level rise, the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of human-induced climate change, which disproportionately affect the poor.

CHR offered the following recommendations to the Philippine government:

  • Formulate a national action plan on business and human rights
  • Declare a climate and environment alert
  • Revisit the Nationally Determined Contribution or the country’s climate commitments
  • Implement coal moratoriums and lead transition to renewable energy and cleaner energy sources
  • Transition to low-carbon transportation systems
  • Implement Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) measures
  • Implement data building and reporting mechanisms
  • Enact laws imposing legal liabilities for corporate or business-related human rights abuses
  • Amend Climate Change Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act and other related regulations to create a singular Climate Code
  • Design and implement rules of evidence for attributing climate change impacts and assessing damages
  • Take judicial notice of the anthropogenic nature of climate change

CHR also stressed in its report the importance of global collective action. A report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that time had nearly run out to ensure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

“The commission agrees that if the international community proceeds with a business-as-usual approach to climate change, the Filipino experience of deprivation of fundamental rights will become the norm in many nations, or even worse,” the commission said.

It added: “Commission among all duty-bearers and stakeholders is of primal importance if we are to truly reverse the path we are on.”

As part of their due diligence, businesses must assess the human rights, environmental and climate change impacts of their operations, CHR said.

Election issue

The CHR report comes at a time when Filipinos are about to elect the country’s new leaders.

Cadiz urged people to consider the climate positions of electoral candidates before casting their votes.

“The commission calls on all global citizens to elect responsible leaders. Individual efforts will be for naught if those in power or those who make and influence policies are blind to the plight of the planet,” the report said.

“Everyone must exercise their right to vote in favor of those who will champion the fundamental human rights of present and future generations to live with dignity in a home safe from the grave and fatal impacts of climate change.”

CLIMATE CHANGE

CLIMATE CRISIS

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

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