Climate and Environment

'Odette' survivor joins global climate lawsuit vs oil giant

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
'Odette' survivor joins global climate lawsuit vs oil giant
Frank Nicol Melgar Marba is the lone Filipino to join a climate litigation against TotalEnergies, in a case filed in France.
Erwin Mascariñas/Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — A survivor of Super Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) joined victims of climate-related disasters from across the world in a criminal complaint against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its top shareholders for their contribution to the heating of the planet.

Frank Nicol Melgar Marba, a 29-year-old resident of Dinagat Islands, was the sole Filipino plaintiff in the transnational climate lawsuit filed with the Paris Criminal Court on Tuesday.

The eight plaintiffs and non-governmental organizations BLOOM and Santé Planétaire in France and Nuestro Futuro in Mexico are suing TotalEnergies' board of directors and main shareholders "for deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity."

Each offense is punishable by at least one year of imprisonment and a fine.

Marba's house was damaged and his grandmother fell ill after Odette struck southern and central parts of the Philippines in December 2021. Odette was one of the strongest recorded cyclones on Earth that year and the second most destructive to make landfall in the country after Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in 2013.

"We demand TotalEnergies to pay not just for the destruction of our properties, but more importantly for the loss of our livelihood and the trauma that we are still dealing with up to now," Marba said.

"Our livelihoods never really fully recovered and whenever there's news of a typhoon coming our way, my grandmother still shakes in fear being reminded of our ordeal from Typhoon Odette," he added.

Scientists have warned that cyclones are becoming more powerful and destructive as the world becomes hotter because of climate change.

Marba joined the climate litigation alongside others impacted by extreme weather events: siblings who lost their mother in a 2020 storm in France, a Pakistani survivor of extreme monsoon rainfall, survivors of wildfires and bushfires that ravaged Greece and Australia, a young Belgian affected by flash floods in northern Europe and a Zimbabwean woman who lived through cyclone Idai in 2019.

Why is this important?

In a first, NGOs and survivors of extreme weather events filed a criminal case related to climate change against the board of executives and shareholders of a major oil and gas company.

"The NGOs and eight plaintiffs hope to establish the criminal liability of TotalEnergies' directors and shareholders for their contribution to climate change and to have them condemned for past decisions, which they took despite knowing they would trigger tremendous casualties and environmental damage," they said.

The prosecutor has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation. If the complaint is dismissed, or if no decision is reached, the plaintiffs can lodge their complaint directly with an investigating judge.

The climate crisis is sparking a growing number of lawsuits worldwide, with oil and gas companies, other corporations and governments facing increasing scrutiny.
TotalEnergies is facing at least eight other climate-related lawsuits.

"Oil and gas companies like TotalEnergies must pay for losses and damages for climate impacts—we should not make communities who bear the brunt of the disasters shoulder the cost," said Virginia Benosa-Llorin, campaigner of Greenpeace Philippines, one of the organizations that support the litigation.

"With climate impacts escalating and costing an estimated 3% of annual GDP, governments like the Philippines should also demand payment for recovery and rehabilitation," she added.

A landmark report released by the Commission on Human Rights in 2022 said that businesses and governments have moral obligations to address the climate crisis.

The CHR resolution 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.

In November 2023, House lawmakers filed a bill that seeks to establish a legal framework to address loss and damage from climate change impacts and hold those responsible for driving the crisis accountable.

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