On 11 July 2022, a case was filed with the conciliation authority in the Swiss canton of Zug concerning the greenhouse gas emissions of the corporate cement giant Holcim AG. The case was brought by four Indonesian nationals, who live on the island of Pari and earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. Inspired by the RWE case, they argue that rising sea levels and floods, which are all caused or aggravated by climate change, are threatening their livelihoods. The cement industry is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, currently emitting approximately 8% of yearly global CO2 emissions. and Holcim is the market leader in this sector. On this basis, the plaintiffs seek compensation from Holcim for the damage to their property and for future damages. They also seek adaptation measures to protect themselves against future impacts, and argue that Holcim should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% (compared to 2019 levels) by 2030, and 69% by 2040. This demands more rapid change than what is foreseen by the company’s own commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
Background of the claim:
The claim concerns the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the cement industry, which are largely made up of direct emissions. In a press conference, representatives for NGOs supporting the plaintiffs noted that 3/4 of Holcim’s emissions are direct emissions, as opposed to the largely indirect emissions created by the fossil fuel industry. The plaintiffs’ claim is based on references to climate attribution science, including reports by the IPCC, and the findings by the US Climate Accountability Institute that Holcim is responsible for .42% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1751.
With the support of Swiss Church Aid HEKS/EPER, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Indonesian environmental organization WALHI, the plaintiffs are invoking Swiss civil law, more specifically a violation of their personality rights and, tort law to argue that their human rights have been violated through the effects of the company’s emissions and that even more severe violations are forthcoming if Holcim does not reduce its emissions. They argue that the company should assume historical responsibility for its past emissions, but also future responsibility in the sense of rapidly reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
Expected further developments:
As required under procedural law, the case has been brought as a request for arbitration. Arbitration proceedings are expected to commence in the fall of 2022. If the efforts at arbitration do not succeed in reaching a mutually agreeable solution, the case may proceed as a civil claim.
For a press release on the case, see here.
For more information, see the dossier compiled by the supporting NGOs here.