Prior to the COP21 climate conference in Paris in 2015, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and several Filipino communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan petitioned the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines to investigate the human rights impacts of climate change in that country and the contribution that 47 major oil companies have made to those impacts. The inquiry is the first to undertake a serious examination of how the world’s largest producers of fossil fuels have contributed to climate related human rights violations.
This week at the COP25 climate conference in Madrid, the results of that 4-year investigation were announced. According to the Center for International Environmental Law, the Commission found that climate change constitutes an emergency situation that demands urgent action and that those 47 oil companies — known collectively as Carbon Majors — played a clear role in both anthropogenic climate change and its impact on the Philippines.
Based on the evidence, the Commission found that those companies could be found legally and morally liable for human rights violations arising from climate change. It concluded that people who had their human rights impaired by climate change deserve access to legal remedies.
The Commission went so far as to find that the companies had engaged in obstruction, deception, or fraud with regard to their activities and the impact of those activities on the Filipino nation and its citizens. It found those actions could establish criminal intent by the companies, which would subject them to criminal sanctions.
“The Commission’s recognition that there is evidence of criminal intent with respect to climate denial and obstruction is particularly significant, and a major development for the Carbon Majors,” said Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law. “Both for civil and criminal liability in jurisdictions around the world, the Commission’s findings in this inquiry represent not an end of the legal investigations into Carbon Majors companies but a major new beginning for them.”
While human rights law provides the appropriate standards, the Commission concluded that cases can and should be brought in domestic courts under national laws. Where existing laws are not adequate, the Commission recommended that governments have an obligation to adopt legal reforms to ensure access to justice for affected communities.
“As the human rights impacts of climate change increase, existing national human rights institutions must urgently step up within the terms of their mandate to address this existential threat,” said Sébastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at CIEL.
“The investigation of the Philippines Commission demonstrates in particular the importance for these institutions to support governments in ensuring that businesses uphold their human rights and due diligence responsibility in the context of climate change. National human rights institutions have a key role to play in working with national governments to ensure that private actors are effectively regulated to prevent further harm and – when their mandate allows – to hold private actors accountable for climate-related human rights harms.”
The 4-year investigation heard expert testimony from dozens of scientists, legal and human rights experts, researchers, medical professionals, and representatives from the communities affected. It heard evidence linking the burning of gas, oil, and coal to the catastrophic impacts of Typhoon Haiyan and other climate-related events in the Philippines and beyond. It also heard extensive evidence about the early knowledge and continuing responsibility of Carbon Major companies with testimony about those impacts. CIEL supported this process through the submission of documentary evidence, amicus briefs, and expert testimony at various times during the investigation process.
In an e-mail to CleanTechnica, Muffett said, “The massive body of scientific data, documentary evidence, and legal analysis amassed during this inquiry is unparalleled in its depth and scope. That evidence itself is one of the most significant outcomes of the Commission’s inquiry.
“It will be valuable to courts and human rights bodies around the world who are confronting these same questions in the face of rising climate harms. For courts and companies alike, one conclusion is inescapable: Carbon Majors and other companies have clear responsibilities to protect human rights, in the context of climate change and beyond.”
We here at CleanTechnica have been saying for years that these companies have committed crimes against humanity during their 40-year-long campaign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Forget civil proceedings. Get Tillerson and his cronies in the dock for their crimes and lock them up! Then, and only then, will the world see real action by these criminally reckless corporations to atone for their sins.
They say that changing the course set by these giant multinational corporations is like trying to steer an oil tanker with a canoe paddle. It takes forever and a day for meaningful change to take place. Civil fines are just a cost of doing business. Companies like these can pay billions in penalties and laugh all the way to the bank, but put a few of these unprincipled bozos in prison and the trajectory of their business plans will change tomorrow.
Since the world does not have centuries or even decades to wait, changes at the highest level need to be made immediately and criminal sanctions are just the tool that would make that happen.
For more on this topic, please see the CIEL report entitled Human Rights In A Changing Climate.