Nine years after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, a human rights board has determined that the world’s largest fossil fuel companies “engaged in willful obfuscation and obstruction to prevent meaningful climate action,” concluding that corporations have obligations under human rights law and can be held liable if they neglect them.
While the landmark findings of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights are non-binding, they constitute a profound step forward to holding industry liable for myriad human rights abuses stemming from the climate crisis, reports Inside Climate News.
The ruling comes seven years after Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Yeb Saño petitioned the commission to hold colossal fossils like Chevron and Exxon Mobil “accountable for either impairing, infringing, abusing, or violating human rights” because of their climate inaction.
In a report that Inside Climate describes as “damning and lucidly-written,” the commission finds that fossil companies were driven “not by ignorance, but by greed,” and that they continue to deny climate science and try to slow a transition away from fossil fuels.
After Big Oil protested that the commission was engaging in jurisdictional overreach, it responded that it did, indeed, have the mandate “to test boundaries and create new paths; to be bold and creative, instead of timid and docile.”
As one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, and one of those least responsible for the climate crisis, the Philippines presents powerful proof for those seeking to formally confirm the climate crisis as a human rights issue that demands accountability.
Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, praised the report as perhaps the most comprehensive compendium of all the research that has been published on fossil fuel companies’ role in driving emissions. He said its greatest achievement was its use of witness testimonies to make the case for multiple violations of the human rights to life, health, food security, and sanitation.
That makes the report “very much a roadmap to show how you document human rights impacts of climate change not only on entire nations, but on individuals and the communities who are being harmed,” Muffett said. “That is, I think, extremely important.”
The corporate sector had best think again if it hopes to find protection in the ruling’s non-binding status, added John Knox, a human rights and international law expert who testified to the commission. “Corporations, their boards, their leaders should really start taking this potential liability seriously,” he said, adding that the report “is the harbinger of much more to come.”