View of "Big Manila"(photo by Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee), licenced through Wikipedia) Today, typhoon survivors and civil society groups in the Philippines  delivered a complaint to the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) calling for an investigation into the responsibility of big fossil fuel companies for fuelling catastrophic climate change that is resulting in human rights violations" Greenpeace Philippines reported this morning. The complaint, which is the first in its kind in the world, asks the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for an investigation into the top 50 investor-owned fossil fuel companies and their responsibility for climate impacts.


As the petition document reports, in the last few years there have been an abundance of country statistics and reports of disaster-related casualties. "For example, despite forecasts and warnings provided days in advance, super-typhoon Yolanda killed more than 6,000 people, affected millions of others, and devastated areas in central Leyte in 2013. According to the World Bank, the EMDAT disaster database shows that between 2000 and 2008, weather-related disasters accounted for 98% of all people affected and 78% of all the people who died due to disasters in the Philippines.3 The World Bank also stated that annually the country has to spend 0.5% of its GDP on natural disasters. 4 Between 1998 and 2009, the country had to deal with costs of up to US$24.3 billion (23.9% of GDP) due to storms, exposing 12.1 million people". 


Based on scientific evidences, the complaint arguments: "[w]hile natural variability continues to play a key role, climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits, making certain types of extreme weather more frequent and more intense". Accordingly, climate change is due to "cumulative global CO2 and methane emissions since the industrial revolution began" mostly caused by the largest multinational and state-owned producers of crude oil, natural gas, coal and cement." These producers are collectively known as the 'Carbon Majors' (you can read the list in the Petition Document) and they contribute a significant portion of the estimated emissions of greenhouse gases. 


The complaint document continues: "The Carbon Majors should be held accountable for violations or threats of violations of Filipinos' rights (a) to life; (b) to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; (c) to food; (d) to water; (e) to sanitation; (f) to adequate housing; and (g) to self-determination resulting from the adverse impacts of climate change. Special attention should be paid to marginalized and disadvantaged people and communities particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including women, children, persons with disabilities, those living in extreme poverty, indigenous peoples, and displaced persons; as well as the right of Filipinos to development. The workers and workers' organizations among the Petitioners also seek accountability for the human rights implications of climate change on the workers' health, labour productivity, work environment and safety, and job protection. 10 One potential way to determine the level of responsibility of an individual Carbon Major is by indentifying the company's share in the estimated global industrial emissions of carbon, and when it is supposed to have allegedly acquired knowledge of its product's harmful effects, including the impacts on the climate, ecological balance, and people's health, or was informed of those impacts". 


The complaint is the first of its kink, but the linkage between Human Rights and Climate Change was previously addressed by the same UNHR. Indeed, back in May, the following piece of news was released: 

The effects of climate change directly and indirectly impact on a range of human rights issues.

Small island States are among those where the effects of climate change on human rights are quite pronounced, said Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati. For example, sea level rise has meant water contamination, loss of land and crops for his nation, with people facing a future of possible statelessness.

"Climate change impact is a moral issue above all. It remains the biggest moral challenge facing human kind, and for low lying countries, climate change is about our survival into the future," Tong said.

President Tong made his statement at a discussion on climate change and human rights during the 28th session of the Human Rights Council. The day-long event in Geneva was intended to enable the Council to identify the challenges and ways forward on human rights for all, and measures to protect human rights in the response to climate change.

Climate change affects many human rights, undercutting the rights to health, to food, to water, and for some small island nations, it may even affect the right to self-determination, said the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri. The brunt of these rights violations fall on those who have least contributed to the problem, she said.

"The poorest people in the poorest countries. Their children. And ours. Populations of small islands, and low-lying coastal lands. For some communities, climate change threatens their very survival," Pansieri said.

Personal Pleas

However, it is irrelevant just to talk about the potential of whole nations to disappear underwater, said Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu. He said what is important is to safeguard the rights of nations to uphold their own sovereignty and achieve economic well-being.

"We strongly believe that the Human Rights Council needs to make a human response to the impacts of climate change," he said. In doing so, we need to keep in mind the necessity that the people concerned continue to enjoy and practice their own cultural and traditional practices in their own cultural and traditional ways of life.

In addition to their presentations before the Council, President Tong and Prime Minister Sopoaga met with the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein as well as the Independent Expert on Environment, John Knox to personally convey their concerns and hopes that the Council would keep climate change on its agenda.

In Vanuatu, another low-lying island nation, a recent cyclone damaged most of the island's infrastructure and left more than 3,000 people homeless. Speaking at a United Nations conference on disaster soon after the storm, the country's president, Baldwin Lonsdale blamed its severity on climate change.

"Existential Threat"

The discussion also focused on how to best influence the upcoming climate change negotiations, scheduled to take place in Paris in December. During the Paris conference, Member States will seek to negotiate a new climate change deal. Panellists encouraged negotiators to use a human-rights-based approach to inform the agreement, as well as having concrete means to assist in mitigation and adaptation for the most affected communities.

Climate change also presents a risk to development, said Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Foreign Minister on Human Rights and Climate Change for Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, he pointed out that an estimated 2 to 3 percent of potential gross domestic product (GDP) is lost due to climate impacts.

All of this points to the fact that climate change poses an "existential threat," he said.

"We must acknowledge that climate change and its effects impact on peace, stability and prosperity as much as violent conflict" Ali said.

Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, recalled that "2015 presents a unique opportunity to set the global community on a new path; [...] More than any other challenge we have ever faced, climate change confronts us with the reality of our interdependence. [...] a focus on rights can inform and strengthen our response and maximise the effectiveness of our local, national and international climate actions."


Sources: Greenpeace, UNHR