In re Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Others
Side A: Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement
Side B: Chevron et al. (investor-owned carbon majors)
Core objectives: Investigation into allegation that largest emitters have violated human rights of Filipinos by causing climate change and ocean acidification
Greenpeace Southeast Asia and numerous other organizations and individuals filed a petition asking the Commission to investigate a general issue—“the human rights implications of climate change and ocean acidification and the resulting rights violations in the Philippines”—and a more specific one—“whether the investor-owned Carbon Majors have breached their responsibilities to respect the rights of the Filipino people.” The core factual allegation of the petition draws on research identifying particular entities’ quantum of responsibility for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions since 1751. The original petition names 50 of those entities, all publicly traded corporations, as respondents. It identifies multiple sources of human rights, but draws most heavily on the UN Human Rights Commission’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
During a conference held on December 11, 2017, the Commission accepted the petition and confirmed that they would investigate the potential human rights violations stemming from major fossil fuel companies’ contributions to climate change. The Commission announced it would hold fact-finding missions and public hearings in 2018. In March 2018, the Commission held its first public hearings to investigate the alleged responsibility of major fossil fuel companies or “carbon majors” for climate change and the potential impacts on the human rights of Filipinos.
On December 9, 2019, the Commission announced its finding that major fossil fuel companies could be held liable for climate change impacts. According to news reports, the Commission concluded that legal responsibility for climate damage is not covered by current international human rights law, but fossil fuel companies have a clear moral responsibility, and the onus falls on individual countries to pass strong legislation and establish legal liability in their courts. The Commission further found that that existing civil law in the Philippines provided grounds for action, and it may also be possible to hold companies criminally accountable “where they have been clearly proved to have engaged in acts of obstruction and willful obfuscation.” The Commission also concluded that major fossil fuel companies have an obligation to respect human rights as articulated by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
On May 6, 2022, 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. Major findings in the report include:
1. 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)
2. 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)
3. 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)
4. 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)
5. 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).