On May 6, 2022, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines ("CHRP") issued a landmark report on its investigation into the role of 47 of the world’s largest investor-owned fossil fuel and cement producers ("carbon majors") in respect of the impacts of climate change (the "Report").1 The Report stems from a 2015 petition that non-governmental organisations ("NGOs") filed, requesting that the CHRP investigate the human rights implications of climate change, and whether carbon majors have breached their responsibilities to respect these human rights. In the petition, these NGOs requested that the carbon majors be held responsible for their contribution to climate change, which, the petitioners alleged, was negatively impacting the human rights of the Filipino people.
This is the first climate proceeding where a National Human Rights Institution ("NHRI") has conducted an investigation and concluded that energy companies violated human rights in connection with their contribution to climate change. The Report is non-binding, but may be invoked by claimants, especially in the Philippines.
The Report demonstrates that human rights are increasingly relevant in the context of climate change litigation, given the growing success of rights-based claims as a means of holding governments and corporations responsible for contributions to climate change.
While no free-standing human right to a clean environment appears in the nine core international human rights instruments or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, breaches of environmental protections can have significant impacts on the enjoyment of recognised human rights such as the right to life, health, food, water and sanitation.2 Over 100 human rights-based climate change claims had been brought to courts and international institutions globally as of 2021, with 34 of those claims having been filed in the preceding two years.3
While most of these human rights-based claims have been against government bodies, an increasing number directly implicate and pursue judgment against corporations, posing a growing risk to businesses in carbon-intensive industries, and influencing corporate risk management.4
What is more, recent case law indicates that courts and legislatures could look across borders for innovative approaches to effectively distribute the economic burdens of the impacts of climate change. The basis on which courts, tribunals and non-judicial mechanisms find liability may be transferable across jurisdictions insofar as these cases are based on universal human rights principles and international or European "soft law" instruments. While it is difficult to predict to what extent legal grounds are transferable, it is important to take note of findings such as those reached by the CHRP in its Report in an assessment of best practices for corporate risk management.
1. Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines National Inquiry on Climate Change Report (2022) p. 3 (hereinafter, the "CHRP Report"), available at https://chr.gov.ph/ wp-content/uploads/2022/05/CHRP-NICC-Report-2022. pdf.
2. The right to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is also gaining increased recognition. On Oct. 8, 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognising the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, with 43 votes in favour and four abstentions. See UN Human Rights Council Resolution, HRC/RES/48/13, Oct. 8, 2021, available at https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/3945636?ln=en. For discussion of the so-called "greening" of human rights (i.e. the process of elaborating the understanding that a healthy environment is of fundamental importance to the full enjoyment of a vast range of human rights), see United Nations, General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, John H. Knox. Preliminary Report, A/HRC/22/43 (December 24, 2012), section II.B, available at https://www.ohchr. org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/ Session22/A-HRC-22-43_en.pdf; see also United Nations, General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, A/73/188 (July 19, 2018), section II, available at https://undocs.org/A/73/188.
3. See Global Trends in Climate Change Litigation: 2021 Snapshot by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment within the London School of Economics and Political Science, available at https://www.lse.ac.uk/ granthaminstitute/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Globaltrends- in-climate-change-litigation_2021-snapshot.pdf.
Reproduced with permission from Global Legal Group. This article was first published in International Comparative Legal Guide - Environmental, Social, & Governance Law 2023 and is available here.
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