PHL panel asks ‘carbon majors’ to respond to claim of rights offenses

A Philippine rights body has set a deadline of 45 days for 47 global oil, mining and cement firms to answer a complaint that their carbon emissions caused human rights violations, in what rights advocates and green groups have called a landmark case.

The action followed a petition by human rights and environmental groups led by Greenpeace seeking to hold the companies accountable for infringement of Filipinos' rights to life, food, water, sanitation and adequate housing, through the adverse impact of climate change.

"Respondents are hereby enjoined to submit their comment or answer, within 45 days," the government's Commission on Human Rights said in an order on Wednesday.

Oil giant Chevron and top miner BHP Billiton, are among the big companies, or so-called 'carbon majors', cited in the petition.

Officials at both companies offered no immediate comment.

"This is a landmark case and we also believe the commission's actions are unprecedented," said Greenpeace country director Amalie Obusan.

It is the first time anywhere in the world that a government agency has accepted, and acted on, a request for investigation of the environmental responsibility of fossil fuel companies, she told Reuters.

"Businesses have the moral responsibility to ensure their business practices are not impinging on human rights where their operations take place," she added.

Not all the companies named have operations in the Southeast Asian nation, however.

"We are going after their historical carbon emissions from the beginning of the industrial revolution that has increased the concentration of carbon emissions in the atmosphere which is now contributing to climate change," Ms. Obusan said.

The Philippines is among nations most vulnerable to the impact of global warming. In November 2013, it was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the world's most powerful storms, which killed more than 6,300 people and left more than 1.4 million homeless.

Ms. Obusan said the petition asked the commission to "direct the 47 carbon majors to share their plans on how climate change impacts can be prevented, mitigated or even remedied in the future." It also wanted the panel to recommend ways for the Philippines to track the vulnerability of its communities to climate change. In June last year, a district court in the Netherlands ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions faster than currently planned, making rare use of the legal system to curb global warming.

Source: Business World Online