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CHR begins landmark inquiry into climate change and human rights

Graphic: Individuals prepare to give testimony at the Commission's public hearing

The Philippines' NHRI has held the first public hearings of its inquiry into carbon polluting companies, a changing climate and human rights.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has held the first in a series of public hearings as part of its inquiry into the impact of climate change on the human rights of Filipinos and the responsibility of major fossil fuel companies in contributing to the changing climate.

The inquiry, the first of its kind in the world, will collect evidence through submissions and at public hearings to be conducted in the Philippines, New York and London between March and December 2018.

In his opening remarks to the first public hearing, held in Manila on 27 March 2018, CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Martin "Chito" Gascon said that Filipinos were among the people who have suffered the most from the impact of climate change.

"Nowhere was this more dramatically demonstrated than in November 2013, when parts of our country were devastated by Typhoon Yolanda," Chairperson Gascon said.

Representatives from communities and human rights groups shared their accounts on how climate change has impacted their lives and livelihood.

Rica Diamzon Cahilig, a 20-year-old student from the Ayta Ambala indigenous group in Bataan, told the inquiry that climate change has badly depleted the forest areas where they live.

“We call the forest our home. Now our source of water, food and medicine has been destroyed.”

Rica Rica Diamzon Cahilig, giving testimony to the inquiry

Felix Pascua Jr., a farmer, lamented how climate change had pushed him and others who work the land closer to poverty.

"We are the farmers who create the country's food, but we now losing that food and our farms," he said.

The Commission also heard evidence from a range of experts on climate change and weather trends, including:

  • Professor Gerry Bagtasa, a professor of environmental science and meteorology at the University of the Philippines, described presented the climate change phenomenon and how it affects the environment and people
  • Rosalina de Guzman, Assistant Chief of the Weather Services of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), who presented the climate trends and projections in the Philippines
  • Peter Frumhoff, Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists based in the United States (through Skype webcast), who presented the findings on his recent study on carbon dioxide.

Attorney Lisa Anne Hamilton, Director of Climate and Energy Program for the Center for International Environmental Law, told the inquiry that human rights laws places clear obligations on States.

"Human rights norms clarify that States should respond to climate change and impose wide-ranging obligations upon States to protect individual from infringements by third parties, including corporations", she stressed.

The next public hearings will be held on 23-24 May 2018.

Graphic: People register to attend the public hearing

Background to the inquiry

In September 2015, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, together with 13 Filipino civil society organisations and 18 individuals, petitioned the Commission to investigate "the responsibility of the Carbon Majors for human rights violations or threats of violations resulting from the impacts of climate change".

The 47 respondents to the petition – the 'Carbon Majors' – are investor-owned oil, natural gas and coal producers and cement manufacturers.

The petitioners argue that the adverse effects of climate change threaten the enjoyment of a range of internationally-protected human rights, most critically the rights to life, to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, to food, to water, to sanitation, to adequate housing, and to self-determination.

They also claim that the Carbon Majors have a responsibility for adverse human rights impacts as a result of their contribution to global climate change and their failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their activities and their products, despite the capacity to do so, and their knowledge of the harms posed by climate change.

Date: 12 April 2018

Source: Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

Image credits

  1. Individuals prepare to give testimony at the Commission's public hearing - Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
  2. People register to attend the public hearing - Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines