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Is dealing with climate change a corporation's obligation to human rights?

A review of the landmark human rights investigation by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines into corporate responsibility for climate change

The petition against 47 Carbon Major companies for climate change adverse impacts implores the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) to use its investigatory and recommendatory powers to consider the Carbon Majors’ accountability and responsibility for human rights violations or threats thereof, resulting from the impacts of climate change.

The petitioners, including Greenpeace Asia, ask the CHR to take official notice of the scientific basis of the petition concerning the human rights implications of climate change and the estimated responsibility of the Carbon Majors. The petition draws on a recent research made by Mr. Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute instead of in-fact/actual evidence.

This investigation is a test case for remedies to climate change using the human rights framework. The Carbon Majors’ head offices against which the investigation is carried out are in United States, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Canada, Russia, Australia, Japan, Mexico and South Africa and include companies like BP, SHELL, CALTEX, TOTAL etc. Their activities include extraction and energy industries active in the extraction, production and sale of coal, oil, gas, cement, electric power and other raw materials.

The decision of the CHR is expected to be rendered in early 2019. Although the CHR can’t impose penalties or judicial remedies against Carbon Majors, any findings of human rights abuse could become a basis for further lawsuits in the Philippines and/or around the world. There is also a strong possibility that this petition will be replicated in some neighbouring countries in South-East Asia.

Technologies, and intellectual property (IP), are at the centre point of the dispute. If the world is to avoid severe climate change carbon, gas emissions must decrease quickly and achieving such cuts, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the UN, depends in part on the availability of key technologies and innovation, in other words low IP carbon footprint. To what extent can the world depend on technological innovation and IP to address climate change and what promising technologies show most potential to help the world come to terms with global warming may well be the next question following the CHR’s investigation.

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