Filipino landmark inquiry finds legal grounds to hold climate-destroying corporations accountable

On May 6, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) issued the final report of its multi-year investigation into 47 investor-owned corporations for human rights harms that result from their actions triggering climate change. 

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Executive Director Yeb Saño said in response: “The findings of the Commission on Human Rights are a vindication for the millions of people whose fundamental rights are being impacted by the corporations behind the climate crisis. 

“This report is historic and sets a solid legal basis for asserting that climate-destructive business activities by fossil fuel and cement companies contribute to human rights harms. The message is clear: these corporate behemoths cannot continue to transgress human rights and put profit before people and planet. 

“The era where the fossil fuel industry and its backers can get away with and profit from their toxic practices is coming to an end. Impacted communities will continue to assert their rights, and demand justice. It’s time to reclaim your power.

“We commend the CHR for its commitment to uphold climate justice; it sets a courageous example for other similar institutions and governments around the world. With the already profound threats of the climate emergency, countries like the Philippines must exercise moral leadership and champion a just transition and abandon the outmoded fossil fuel apparatus, in line with the Paris Agreement. 

“Alongside our co-petitioners, we are calling on the incoming Philippine government and world leaders to adopt the Commission’s findings and hold big polluters responsible for the climate-damaging impacts of their business activities. 

“We expect the government to urgently act on these findings, and work on people-centered policies that will hold climate-polluting businesses accountable, prevent further harm, usher in the energy transition, and ensure a just, safe, sustainable and peaceful future for the people.”

Major findings stated in the report include:

  • Carbon Majors’ products contributed to 21.4% of global emissions (p. 99). The Carbon Majors had early awareness, notice, or knowledge of their products’ adverse impacts on the environment and climate system, at the latest, in 1965. (pp. 101-104)
  • Carbon Majors, directly by themselves or indirectly through others, singly and/or through concerted action, engaged in willful obfuscation of climate science, which has prejudiced the right of the public to make informed decisions about their products, concealing that their products posed significant harms to the environment and the climate system. (pp. 108-109)
  • In addition to liability anchored on acts of obfuscation of climate science, fossil-based companies may also be held to account by their shareholders for continued investments in oil explorations for largely speculative purposes. (p. 109)
  • All acts to obfuscate climate science and delay, derail, or obstruct this transition may be a basis for liability. At the very least, they are immoral (p. 115). Climate change denial and efforts to delay the global transition from fossil fuel dependence still persists. Obstructionist efforts are driven, not by ignorance, but by greed. Fossil fuel enterprises continue to fund the electoral campaigns of politicians, with the intention of slowing down the global movement towards clean, renewable energy. (p. 110)
  • The Carbon Majors have the corporate responsibility to undertake human rights due diligence and provide remediation (p. 110). Business enterprises, including their value chains, doing business in, or by some other reason within the jurisdiction of, the Philippines, may be compelled to undertake human rights due diligence and held accountable for failure to remediate human rights abuses arising from their business operations (pp. 113-114).

Photo credit: iStock/ Selçuk KARABIYIK

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