Vance Center Hosts Philippines Commission on Human Rights for Dialogue on Climate Change and Human Rights

October 2018

The Commissioners during the National Inquiry on Climate Change

The Philippines Commission on Human Rights (CHR) met for two days at the New York City Bar Association, hosted by the Vance Center, as part of its National Inquiry on Climate Change (NICC).The NICC is considering a petition filed in the Philippines in 2015 by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and other groups against a large number of multinational corporations (known as the Carbon Majors). The petition calls upon the CHR to investigate the responsibility of these corporations for contributing to global emissions of greenhouse gases and causing violations of Filipinos’ basic human rights as a result of climate change. The matter is a unique inquiry into climate change by a national human rights institution. In addition to holding hearings in the Philippines during 2018, the CHR has garnered attention for its decision to convene additional dialogues in New York and London.  The CHR also has received amicus briefs and other submissions from scientific and legal experts and advocates regarding the complex issues in the case.

Three other commissioners joined Roberto Eugenio T. Cadiz, the Commission’s expert on Sustainable Development Goals, Business and Human Rights, Environment and International Humanitarian Law and Peace, for the dialogue. The non-adversarial process engaged 13 “resource persons” with various expertise to testify about the pressing urgency to address the global threat of climate change and its impact on human rights. Lawyers from Greenpeace Philippines also questioned the resource persons after they presented their testimony.

  • Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan and Superstorm Sandy described how powerful storms and other effects of climate change have destroyed their homes, communities, and ways of life.
  • Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists explained how scientific advances now enable attribution of the frequency and intensity of weather events to the emissions of specific industries.
  • Kert Davies from the Climate Investigations Center testified about multiple case studies that have revealed internal scientific investigations of climate change by the fossil fuel companies dating back to the 1980s.
  • John Knox, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, presented the new Framework Principles and expounded on the obligation of businesses and states to address climate change as provided for in the Framework Principles and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

During the second day, Cynthia Williams and David Estrin of Osgoode Law School testified how the CHR inquiry process might emphasize the obligations of corporations and governments with regard to climate change. They explained that corporations should commit a higher percentage of funds to business plans and future activities to decarbonize and diversify their primary energy supply and product mix. James Hansen and Radley Horton, leading experts on climate change from Columbia University, detailed the scientific history and global consequences of climate change and underscored the irreversible impacts that will result from failing to tackle it. Erin Daly, co-founder of the Dignity Rights Project and professor at Delaware Law School, explained how climate change directly affects the right of human dignity, providing that all humans have value and are of equal worth. Dan Zarrilli, One NYC Director and chief climate policy advisor to the New York City’s mayor, described the city’s efforts to address the already apparent impacts of climate change. Though invited to testify, none of the companies named in the petition, who have disputed the Commission’s authority, participated.

The Commission, which will hold its next dialogue in November at the London School of Economics, is expected to issue recommendations on the petition in early 2019 based on its fact-finding, investigative and recommendatory powers under the NICC.