Philippines Human Rights Commission delivers landmark decision, holding the Carbon Majors accountable for climate damages – Updated

The Human Rights Commission of the Philippines has concluded its three-year investigation of a complaint led by Greenpeace South-East Asia , and has found that the collective contribution to global heating by 47 coal, cement, and oil and gas companies has violated Filipinos’ basic human rights to life, water, food, sanitation, adequate housing and self-determination. Although the full decision is not yet available – but promised by the end of 2019 – the announcement made by one of the Commissioners at the COP25 meetings  stated that it would be up to individual countries to pass strong legislation and establish legal liability in their own courts, but that “there was clear scope under existing civil law in the Philippines to take action.”

The  Director of Greenpeace Philippines is quoted in the Greenpeace press release:

“The findings are a landmark victory for communities around the world who are at the frontlines of the climate emergency. This is the first ever finding of corporate responsibility for human rights harms resulting from the climate crisis. The outcome goes beyond the Philippines and can reach every single human being alive or yet to be born. However, this is only the beginning. We believe the findings provide very strong basis not just for future legal actions against big polluters, but also for citizens and communities to confront inaction by companies and governments in the streets and in the hallways of power.”

Greenpeace maintains an archive of documents related to this long-running investigation, including corporate responses and expert opinions.  Climate Liability News has published a number of articles, including “Carbon Majors Can Be Held Liable for Human Rights Violations, Philippines Commission Rules” and  “Philippines Climate Case Could Find Fossil Fuel Companies Violate Human Rights” ( 2017), which  provides more background to the case.

Update:  On December 18, The Tyee published “Oilsands Firms ‘Morally Responsible’ for Deaths and Destruction from Climate Disasters”, an interview by Geoff Demicki with Greenpeace’s Naderev Yeb Saño , which “explains what a Philippines human rights investigation means for the fossil fuel industry in Canada.”

Rights-in-a-Changing-ClimateRelated: An authoritative chronicling of  the human rights dimension in UNFCCC decisions and the Paris Agreement appears in  Rights in a Changing Climate by the Centre for International Environmental Law , published on December 5. It includes examples of Just Transition and decent work. The CIEL also operates a Working Group on Climate Rights, with a dedicated website here.

Updates on climate litigation:

“Fossil Fuels on Trial: Where the Major Climate Change Lawsuits Stand Today”  was published by Inside Climate News on November 29, providing a good sum-up of the year, but too early to reflect the landmark Philippines decision, nor the December 10 decision in the suit by the New York Attorney General against  Exxon.  The surprising victory for Exxon is described in  “Judge Clears Exxon in Investor Fraud Case Over Climate Risk Disclosure”  in Inside Climate News, as well as in a New York Times article.

Ontario updates: Advisory Panel on Climate Change appointed; Auditor General pans climate policies; Ontario youth launch new lawsuit

Post updated November 6:

In a November 28 press release,  Ontario’s  Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks announced the appointment of an Ontario Advisory Panel on Climate Change . The press release quotes the new Chair, Paul Kovacs who states: “The knowledge exists to prevent losses from flooding, wildfire and other climate extremes…. “Members of the advisory panel on climate change look forward to working with the Government of Ontario to champion climate resilience. Working together, we can break the alarming trend of rising severe weather damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure. Action on climate resilience is a critical element of a comprehensive strategy on climate change.”

Members of the Advisory Panel come from a variety of sectors including non-profits, agriculture, insurance, and reflect the Panel’s focus on adaptation and conservation concerns. Neither green advocacy groups nor workers are represented. The brief bios of panelists are here :  Chair Paul Kovacs is founder and Executive Director of the  Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University; Vice-Chair Lynette Mader is the Manager of Provincial Operations for Ontario for Ducks Unlimited Canada and an expert on species-at-risk.  The other eight Panel members include Blair Feltmate , head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo and Chair of the Government of Canada Expert Panel on Climate Adaptation and Resilience Results.

ontario auditor general 2019The Advisory Panel was announced on the one-year anniversary of the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.   On December 4,  that policy initiative was reviewed when the provincial Auditor General tabled her annual report in the Legislature, including  Volume 2:  Reports on the Environment . In 183 pages and three chapters, the report provides an overview of  1. environmental issues in Ontario; 2. Operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights, and 3. Climate Change: Ontario’s plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The report details the government’s performance and finds that it has double-counted emissions reductions in some cases, over-estimated potential impacts of its own policies,  and is nowhere near able to meet its own 2030 emissions reductions targets.   The National Observer summarizes the report in “Ontario Auditor General slams Doug Ford’s climate policies”  and an analysis at the  TVO website tells a similar story in  “Ontario’s Auditor General gives the Tories’ climate plan a failing grade”.  This latest report follows on the previous  highly-critical report of the outgoing Environmental Commissioner,  A Healthy, Happy, Prosperous Ontario: Why we need more energy conservation  (March 2019), and  the Failure to Launch   report in October 2019 by Environmental Defence.

Youth launch lawsuit against Ontario government

All of these negative findings won’t help the government as they prepare to defend themselves against a new  climate change lawsuit by Ontario youth  who claim that the  Ford government’s softening of emissions reductions targets “will lead to widespread illness and death,” and thus has violated their charter rights under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Seven  applicants from communities across Ontario, ranging in age from 12 to 24, are represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP .  Details are in the Ecojustice  Case Backgrounderan overview of the action appears in the National Observer in  “These Ontario kids are taking climate protest from streets to courthouse” (Nov. 26).

mathur v province of ontario

Canadian youth sue federal government seeking stronger climate action

Larose plaintiffs 2019Just days after the federal election, on October 25, fifteen Canadians aged 10 to 19 launched a lawsuit in federal court, seeking a court-ordered plan for climate change based on the best available science.  The plaintiffs, from seven Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territories, announced their suit in Vancouver at the Fridays for Future climate strike alongside Greta Thunberg and recounted their personal experiences, including asthma, Lyme disease, mental health challenges, and injuries from wildfire smoke.

The Statement of Claim   in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen alleges that by failing to  protect essential public trust resources like air and water,  the Canadian government has violated the children’s right to life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also alleges that the government has violated Section 15 of the Charter, since youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.   A press release from the David Suzuki Foundation includes quotes from some of the individuals involved; the case was widely reported in the following sources:  the CBC , The Energy Mix ,  the National Observer, Toronto Starand the Vancouver Star  .

This is the second climate change case brought by Canadian youth: in 2019,   ENvironnement JEUnesse brought  a class action suit on behalf of Quebecers under the age of 35, which argued that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class , namely, the age limit of 35 years. The case is under appeal.

 

The children in La Rose v. Her Majesty the Queen  are represented by the B.C. law firms of Arvay Finlay LLP and Tollefson Law Corporation, and supported by the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) , the David Suzuki Foundation, and Our Children’s Trust in the U.S., which pioneered the pending landmark youth case of Juliana vs. United States.  Our Children’s Trust compiles information on climate change lawsuits around the world including Australia, Belgium, Columbia, France, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at New York’s Columbia Law School maintains a database of cases in the U.S., and a separate database from the rest of the world – approximately 1400 climate lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel corporations in more than 25 countries.

Climate change litigation in Canada: ENvironnement JEUnesse is under appeal

environnement jeunesse demonstrationA September blog published by legal firm Aird Berlis  summarizes the July 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court in Canada’s youth climate change litigation: ENvironnement JEUnesse v. Canada.  The environmental group  ENvironnement JEUnesse also summarizes the progress of the case, which sought to represent Quebecers under the age of 35 in a class action suit, arguing that the Canadian government was violating the class members’ fundamental rights by failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to ensure a safe climate. In July 2019, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the petitioners’ motion because it rejected the nature of the class proposed by the petitioners, namely, the age limit of 35 years. Lawyers for ENvironnement JEUnesse filed an appeal of the decision in August and await a hearing. The French-language decision is here ; an unofficial English-language translation posted by Columbia Law School is here .  ENvironnement JEUnesse  sees itself as part of the global movement of climate litigation begun with the Urgenda decision in The Netherlands, and summarizes other cases around the world on its English-language website. The French-language website is much more informative – in addition to updates on the case, it posts news on the Quebec climate youth movement and its  annual conference.

16 young people file landmark petition for climate action under the U.N. Rights of the Child

On September 23, climate activist Greta Thunberg made an emotional, unforgettable speech to the on the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City. The full Youtube video is here ;  her words are reproduced by The Guardian in an Opinion Piece titled “If world leaders choose to fail us, my generation will never forgive them”, and stating: “We are in the middle of a climate breakdown, and all they can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.”  A summary from The Guardian is here .

petition-kids_michael-rubenstein-800New landmark climate litigation

Also on September 23, Greta Thunberg and fifteen other young people from around the world submitted a groundbreaking legal petition to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Respondent countries Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey are the largest polluters amongst the 45 countries in the world which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and agreed to an additional protocol that allows children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations.

The young people contend that these five countries are violating their rights under the Convention by failing to curb emissions and promoting fossil fuels, despite have known about the risks of climate change for decades.  They are asking the U.N. Committee to make specific recommendations to the five nations about what they need to do to meet their treaty obligations, including changing laws to speed up the response to climate change and applying more diplomatic pressure on big polluters like the United States and China.

The complaint was prepared and filed on behalf of the youth petitioners by the international law firm Hausfeld LLP and the nonprofit environmental public interest law organization Earthjustice – whose press release is here . A dedicated website, Children vs Climate Crisis provides biographies and statements from each of the children, a copy of the 101-page Petition ,and a 338-page Appendix  with detailed statements of the impacts on the petitioners’ lives.

The Earthjustice website  is hosting a petition in support of the children’s case.