Heavy rains and high waves brought by Typhoon Linfa crash along a breakwater in Manila in 2015. Photograph: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
Emma Howard in Manila Saturday 7 May 2016 08.00 BST
Can Chevron, ExxonMobil and BP be held accountable for the vulnerable communities most affected by climate change? It’s a question a legal case in the Philippines could answer.
Last month, lawyers for the petitioners met with the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR), a constitutional body tasked with investigating human rights violations. Their goal was to identify expert witnesses for a hearing into the liability of 50 of the biggest fossil fuel companies for violating the human rights of Filipinos as a result of catastrophic climate change.
This follows a petition filed on 22 September 2015 by Greenpeace and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement on behalf of typhoon survivors, which called for the devastation of extreme weather-related disasters to be properly recognised: “The real-life pain and agony of losing loved ones, homes, farms – almost everything – during strong typhoons, droughts, and other weather extremes, as well as the everyday struggle to live, to be safe, and to be able to cope with the adverse, slow onset impacts of climate change, are beyond numbers and words.”
The hearing will consider whether companies’ policies and investments adequately address the human rights issues specified in the petition.
The Philippines is among the countries most exposed to natural hazards in the world, with 130m Filipinos affected by weather-related disasters between 1995 and 2015. In 2013, for example, Typhoon Haiyan wreaked devastation, killing more than 6,300 people and causing billions of dollars worth of damage. It is widely acknowledged – including by the Filipino government’s Climate Change Commission – that climate change is exacerbating these problems.
The decision to invite climate scientists as witnesses to the Philippines investigation is seen as a significant opportunity to demonstrate the links between climate change and extreme weather.
“It’s encouraging because it shows that we managed to get the message out there that this branch of science [the attribution
of extreme weather events to climate change] can robustly say things,” says Dr Friederike Otto, senior researcher at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.