Landmark Human Rights Case Against Largest Polluters in the Philippines

air pollution philippinesA healthy, clean, and sustainable environment is essential to the fulfillment of human rights, including the right to life, food, health, water, and an adequate standard of living. The environmental alterations brought by climate change have damaging impacts on the enjoyment of these rights for individuals and communities around the world. In a breakthrough case, the Philippines has taken an unprecedented step in recognizing this link in the hope of protecting people from losing these fundamental rights.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is beginning to witness the consequences of climate change unfold. A country deemed one of the most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, has already experienced four of the most devastating super-cyclones in the last decade, as well as an increase in severe floods and heatwaves ultimately linked to man-made actions.

As a result, last week, The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) launched a landmark case by sending 47 of the world’s largest oil, coal, cement, and mining corporations including Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, and Chevron, a 60-page document accusing them of breaching people’s fundamental rights to “life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self-determination,” The Guardian reports.  Together these companies emitted 22% of industry greenhouse gas emissions globally from 2010 to 2013. The CHR is now asking these companies to submit comprehensive plans on how they will “eliminate, remedy and prevent” the impacts of climate change. The full legal investigation is expected to start in October with public hearings after all 47 companies have responded.

“Ultimately, those who have profited most from pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere must bear the burden of preventing the havoc already being wreaked by climate change,” says Jennifer Morgan from Greenpeace International. Although the CHR lacks judicial power to punish these corporations, they do have the power to make recommendations to the Filipino government to demand actions and accountability measures from businesses in the name of human rights.

This marks the first country to pursue large carbon emitting companies on human rights grounds. It is an important step in establishing the moral and legal guide where big polluters can be held responsible for human rights infringements by their contributions to climate change.