The world’s most polluting companies have a moral and legal obligation to address the harms of climate change because of their role in spreading misinformation, according to a study by Filipino typhoon survivors.
Experts say the long-awaited report released on Friday, which concludes that coal, oil, mining and cement companies involved in a “deliberate obfuscation” of climate science and efforts to drive a global transition to cleaner Hampering energy could fuel climate lawsuits around the world.
The Philippine Human Rights Commission’s investigation began seven years ago after a petition by Typhoon Haiyan survivors and local NGOs.
In addition to the human rights impacts of climate change in the Philippines, scientific, legal and personal evidence from around the world was drawn upon to examine the role of 47 of the world’s most polluting companies in the climate crisis.
At hearings in Manila London and New York heard the commission from survivors of extreme weather disasters appealing directly to businesses to respect their human rights.
It concluded that the world’s most polluting companies are morally and legally liable for the impacts of the climate crisis for willfully obscuring climate science and hampering efforts towards a global clean energy transition.
They could also be held accountable by their shareholders for continuing to invest in oil exploration for “largely speculative purposes.”
The commission called on governments to phase out fossil fuel projects and keep new coal, oil and gas in the ground, to incentivize renewable energy and to ensure companies are subject to strong corporate responsibility laws.
Yeb Saño, the executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, who helped file the original petition, said the report is a “vindication” for the millions of people whose rights are being violated by the companies behind the climate crisis.
“This report is historic and provides a solid legal basis for claims that climate-damaging operations by fossil fuel and cement companies contribute to human rights abuses. The message is clear: these corporate giants cannot continue to violate human rights and put profit before people and planet.”
Although the commission does not have the power to hold the companies legally accountable or to fine them, experts hope the report will influence the development of new laws and lawsuits in the Philippines and that the wealth of evidence it has gathered will be of political Used by decision makers, advocates and climate activists around the world.
Carroll Muffett, the president and CEO of the US-based Center for International Environmental Law, described the result as a turning point in climate responsibility that built on other recent lawsuits, such as last year’s ruling by a Dutch court that Shell had to cut its emissions by 45% in 2030.
He said the commission’s conclusion that states are responsible for protecting their citizens from climate-related corporate human rights abuses “should send shockwaves through the oil industry.”
The commission’s chairman, Roberto Eugenio Cadiz, said it had offered the investigated companies “every opportunity” to participate in the investigation, even traveling to countries where many of the firms were headquartered, but none had the offer accepted. Several wrote to challenge the Commission’s jurisdiction, arguing that climate change is not a violation of human rights.
Release of the report has been repeatedly delayed, to the growing frustration of petitioners, many of whom were also affected by recent Typhoon Rai, but are glad it has finally appeared. Saño said the commission is a “bold example” for other human rights institutions and governments around the world and called on the new Philippine government to adopt its findings.