Home Articles posted by Annalisa Savaresi

The Philippines Human Rights Commission and the ‘Carbon Majors’ Petition

Published on December 22, 2017        Author: , and

The adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 has been followed by a burgeoning strand of climate change litigation, with test cases being heard all over the world (see Columbia Law School database). Amongst others, litigants have argued that emissions are the proximate cause of adverse climate change impacts, thereby giving rise to specific liability. One of the boldest efforts to test the boundaries of the law in this area is a petition currently being heard by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR or Commission). The petition originated in 2016, when after a surge of typhoons wreaking havoc in the Philippines, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Pilipino human rights groups and citizens requested the Commission to investigate the responsibility of 47 oil, gas, coal, and cement companies for human rights violations or threats thereof resulting from the impacts of climate change (so-called Carbon Majors petition). The petition has attracted much attention in the media and numerous academics and civil society organisations have submitted amicus briefs in support of the petitioners. Last week, the Commission groundbreakingly asserted its jurisdiction to investigate the petition (CHR press release). The Commission also announced multiple fact-finding missions and public hearings in 2018, to be held both within and without the Philippines. This post reflects on the international law implications of the petition for arguments concerning the liability of corporations for alleged human rights violations associated with the impacts of climate change in a transnational context.

The Scope of the Commission’s Jurisdiction

Similar to other national human rights institutions, the CHR has a mandate to investigate:

all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights and to investigate and monitor all economic, social and cultural rights violations and abuses, as well as threats of violations thereof, especially with respect to the conditions of those who are marginalized, disadvantaged, and vulnerable (Rule 2, Omnibus Rules of Procedure). 

Some respondents challenged the Commission’s jurisdiction to hear the petition. Citing the Lotus case, they argued that a State’s jurisdiction is limited ‘only to the confines of its physical boundaries’ (e.g. Cemex, at 11). As we explained in our amicus brief, States frequently exercise adjudicatory and legislative jurisdiction over persons or events outside their territory, as long as there is a clear connecting nexus between that State and the person or conduct that it seeks to regulate. Therefore, and contrary to what was suggested by the respondents, the exercise of the Commission’s jurisdiction over foreign corporations is neither an ‘act of interference’ or ‘usurpation’ of other States’ sovereignty (Cemex, at 16), nor ‘tantamount to an undue encroachment on the territorial jurisdiction and sovereignty of such other States where Respondents are domiciled and operate’ (Shell, at 1). As long as the Commission’s investigation falls within one of the established principles of jurisdiction, it is in accordance with international law. The most relevant principles for the purposes of the petition are the territorial and the protective principles. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Paris Agreement: A Rejoinder

Published on February 16, 2016        Author: 

In his analysis of the recently adopted Paris Agreement, Professor Jorge Viñuales shed light on the main features of this new treaty. He concludes that, while the Agreement is not perfect, it is certainly ‘more than many of those who have followed the climate negotiations over the years realistically expected.’ I cannot but agree with this assessment: the Paris Agreement is probably the best that could be achieved at this place and time and, given the premises, its adoption as a treaty last December was almost miraculous. This post expands upon a couple of points raised in his analysis, focusing on the legal form of the Paris Agreement, its relationship with the UNFCCC and on the nature of obligations concerning the review of parties’ commitments.

Read the rest of this entry…


UN Climate Change Negotiations: Last Tango in Paris?

Published on November 10, 2015        Author: 

The Paris Climate Change Conference starting on 30 November 2015 is tasked to set the world on a path to address the greatest challenge to ever face humankind, by adopting a new climate agreement. It was hoped that agreement in Paris would bring an end to the impasse that has long affected international climate governance. However, the outlook for the conference is rather bleak. We are just a few weeks away from the conference, but Parties remain far from reaching any agreement. Negotiations under the body entrusted to draft the text of the Paris agreement, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), have abundantly shown that Parties’ views on how to tackle climate change still significantly diverge. At the end of the last ADP session before Paris, progress on the preparation of the text of the agreement remained limited. In fact, Parties even backtracked on the little compromise they had managed to achieve at earlier ADP sessions. This post reflects on the difficulties experienced in the work of the ADP and on their implications for the Paris conference.

Ever since 1992, Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have attempted to agree on measures to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.’ The international scientific body entrusted to assess climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has indicated that such a level requires keeping the increase in global annual average temperature below 2° C as compared with pre-industrial times. Over twenty years after its adoption, however, the UNFCCC has struggled to keep the world within the limits indicated by the IPCC. In fact, global emissions of greenhouse gases have anything but diminished.

The reason international climate governance has proven to be such an intractable affair relates both to the enormity of the challenge at hand, as well as to the gaping disparity in States’ capacity to tackle climate change. The main instrument adopted to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere under the UNFCCC, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, fundamentally acknowledged this gap. Building upon a static differentiation between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries, the Protocol imposed binding emission reduction targets only on the first. With ever growing emissions in emerging economies, like China and India, however, the IPCC has repeatedly flagged that both developed and developing countries need to reduce their emissions.

To make matters worse, political will behind the Kyoto Protocol has significantly faltered. Read the rest of this entry…

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