Earlier this May 2022, the National Inquiry on Climate Change (NICC) under the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) released a report — the result of seven years of public hearings, consultations, and research. It outlines the way climate change impacts human rights, and the responsibility of both governments and businesses to protect human rights in the face of the climate crisis. The first of its kind in the world, this report presents another critical step towards the recognition of the climate crisis as a human rights crisis. We unpack some of its key arguments here.
Climate change is a human rights issue
The NICC report outlines how climate change negatively impacts human rights, specifically in the Philippines. Extreme weather events have killed thousands of Filipinos, and injured and displaced countless more. In addition, extreme weather, along with rising temperatures, pollution, and food and water shortages impact the Filipino’s right to health. Climate change has also led to food insecurity, and a lack of water and sanitation. Other human rights impacted include the rights to livelihood, adequate housing, preservation of culture, self-determination, development, equality and non-discrimination, and intergenerational equality.
As governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from human rights abuses, and as the NICC report outlines, climate change causes human rights to be infringed upon, governments therefore have an obligation to address climate change and mitigate its impacts. The NICC argues that otherwise, governments are enabling the infringement of the human rights of their citizens, and are therefore in breach of their duty.
Citing the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP), the NICC argues that businesses must also respect human rights. In fact, businesses are obligated, firstly, to avoid adverse human rights impacts and address them when they occur, and secondly, to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that occur as a result of their operations, products, or services.
By continuing to knowingly contribute to climate change, carbon majors are violating human rights
Carbon majors (i.e. fossil fuel corporations) have known since at least 1965 that fossil fuels, their end product, causes climate change. The NICC report confirms this through internal documents from carbon majors, publications and studies of such documents, and early scientific reports on the effects of carbon dioxide. Additionally, carbon majors have engaged in a decades-long dis- and misinformation campaign to mislead the public about climate science and climate change. They have also worked to prevent meaningful climate action by lobbying against renewable energy in governments, as well as by funding the electoral campaigns of politicians who would act in their favor.
By continuing to extract fossil fuels, carbon majors are contributing to climate change, and thus infringing on the human rights of the global citizenry. They do so knowingly and willingly, fueled not by ignorance of the consequences of their actions but by greed and the relentless pursuit of profit and growth.
But what does this all mean for the Philippines? No carbon major has originated from the Philippines, yet its citizens bear the brunt of human rights impacts due to climate change. Rather, a vast majority of fossil fuel businesses operate from the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, and the rest of the Global North.
Governments must hold carbon majors accountable for human rights violations in relation to the climate crisis, and we must hold governments accountable for their inaction.
According to the NICC report, “States have a responsibility to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction or control, whether their own or those of non-State actors, do not harm people in other countries or areas outside their national jurisdiction.” It therefore follows that it is the responsibility of Global North countries to hold their own fossil fuel businesses accountable for how their emissions have infringed upon the human rights of the global populace. This includes penalizing carbon majors for their emissions, providing mechanisms to redress victims of climate change impacts, and providing climate financing for the most affected peoples and areas. Global North countries like the United States must also address how their own government machineries, such as their military, contribute to carbon dioxide emissions.
What should we be demanding from the Philippine government? In addition to addressing climate change and mitigating its effects in the country, the Philippine government is also obligated to protect its citizenry from human rights abuses perpetrated by carbon majors and the fossil fuel industry. That means phasing out existing coal power plants and not allowing the establishment of new ones, and demanding reparations from fossil fuel businesses. Additionally, the Philippine government needs to demand action from the Global North to take action against the businesses under their jurisdiction.
In light of this, we, Filipino citizens, need a government that will prioritize fighting for our rights in the face of the climate crisis. The deadline for halving global carbon dioxide emissions (as outlined in the Paris Agreement of 2015) is 2030. The administration in power for the next six years will have the monumental task of transitioning our country to a more sustainable future. We need a government with concrete plans for phasing out fossil fuels, for adaptation and mitigation, and for ensuring the wellbeing of all Filipinos during this time.
The future of climate justice in the Philippines is precarious
The findings of the NICC irrevocably frame climate change as a human rights issue. Climate change is not just an issue of the future, and it is not just an issue of the environment. People all over the globe, and especially in the Philippines, are suffering the consequences of climate change now, today. There is concrete evidence that carbon majors have knowingly and willfully contributed to climate change, and by doing so have infringed upon the human rights of every person on the planet and even of future generations. We should not have to demand that governments uphold their basic obligations to protect their citizens, yet here we are.
This report was released just days before the 2022 Philippine national elections. Since then, the possibility of a Marcos-Duterte administration has become more and more likely. Such an administration will not care for our human rights, for our environment, or for climate action. The tandem have expressed support for the NTF-ELCAC, have made known their plans for nuclear energy, and have no concrete platforms regarding climate. While the NICC report makes several recommendations to address the injustices brought about by climate change, it will be meaningless under the Marcos-Duterte leadership. For our country to have a shot at a liveable future, we cannot allow this tandem to take power.
Climate justice is social justice! No to Marcos-Duterte!