Categories
2022 Chile Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Gender / women-led Non-discrimination Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to life Separation of powers

Women from Huasco & Others v. Government of Chile & Ministries of Energy, Environment and Health

Summary:

On 25 November 2021, a group of women from the city of Huasco, alongside Doris Zamorano, a member of a civil society organization in Huasco, brought a constitutional action against Chile’s omission in coordinating the early closure of two coal-fired power plants. The Chilean government had signed closure agreements with owners of various thermoelectric power plants, but the two plants in question were absent from these agreements. They would be subject to the general clause requiring closure of all coal-fired power plants by the year 2040. The petitioners argued the emissions from the powerplants and the uncertainty as to their closure in advance of the year 2040 contributes to interferences with their exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights. In particular, they point to the governmental authorities’ awareness about the persistent local air pollution and treatment of Huasco as a ‘sacrifice zone,’ as well as Chile’s climate mitigation commitments.  

On 2 May 2022, the Court of Appeals of Copiapo dismissed the petition on the ground that adjudication of the issues raised by the petitioners was beyond its competence. The petitioners have filed an appeal against this decision before the Supreme Court of Chile.

Claims:

The applicants argue that the State’s omissions consist in its failure to close two coal-fired power plants, failure to justify the exclusion of the two power plants from the list of plants due to be closed earlier than 2040 pursuant to its climate policy, and toleration of emissions from the two power plants despite no compensation being granted for the negative environmental impacts from their operation. The petition alleges that these omissions violate their constitutional rights to equality, to life, physical and psychological liberty, to an environment free from contamination, and to the protection of their health, as well as a breach of the State’s administrative duty not to act arbitrarily. In support of the latter contention, the petitioners relied on the administrative law principles of service of the human person, coordination between State organs and the environmental principles of prevention and precaution. Further, they argued that the normative content of the State’s duty were to be informed by Sustainable Development Goals, International Labour Organisation Guidelines on Just Transition, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement and Chile’s 2020 NDC Communication under the Paris Agreement. By way of evidence, the petitioners relied on reports of high levels of air pollution in the city of Huasco, and a comparative analysis of morbidity rates and incidences of respiratory illnesses in Huasco and Caldera, a similar city that was not in the vicinity of coal-fired power plants.

The petitioners requested the Court of Appeals of Copiapo to order the concerned state organs to (i) establish and implement a plan to effect the early closure of the two power plants, and (ii) establish a compensation plan for historical and current emissions of the power plants to redress the environmental and health-related impacts.

In his reply, the Minister of Energy challenged the appropriateness of a judicial review of complex public policies which were the result of a democratic and representative participative process. The Minister also elaborated on the procedural history and content of the government’s policy on decarbonisation, and the limits of the legal competences of the various Ministries vis-à-vis regulation of private actors in the energy sector, to rebut the petitioners’ arguments about the State’s breach of administrative duties. The reply submitted by the Minister of Environment argued that there is no omission attributable to the Ministry of the Environment since regulation of power plants falls within the authority of the Ministry of Energy, and that environmental management instruments were enacted to improve the air quality in Huasco. The Minister of Health submitted a similar reply. The Undersecretary General of the Presidency argued that State authorities lack the power to order the early closure of the said power plants, and that all of the authorities named in the petition had taken relevant measures in relation to the factual situation described by the petitioners.

Decision:

On 2 May 2022, the Court of Appeals of Copiapo rendered its decision wherein it rejected the petition. The Court noted that petitioners’ action for constitutional review of the State’s omission suggests that they disagree with its actions which form part of the public policy on decarbonisation of the country. However, this policy was developed and implemented with the participation of various state organs (with the Ministry of Energy being at the head of them) and it is not for the Court to substitute itself for them and order a replacement or modification of such policy. The Court also noted the involvement of non-State stakeholders, including both actors from the industry and civil society, in the establishment of the decarbonisation policy.

Additionally, with respect to closure of power plants, the Court noted that State organs do not have the authority to demand closures and that such an outcome can only be achieved through agreements between the State and the concerned owners of the power plants. The Court concluded that the fact that the agreement concluded between the State and the owner of the two power plants in question does not envisage a concrete plan for their closure, as it does for some other power plants, does not evince arbitrariness.

Links:

The case documents are accessible via Climate Case Chart (click here).

Status of the case:

The case is pending in appeal before the Supreme Court of Chile.

Last updated:

08 August 2023.

Categories
2022 Biodiversity Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Fossil fuel extraction Gender / women-led Human dignity Non-discrimination Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to life Right to water Sea-level rise South Africa Standing/admissibility

African Climate Alliance et. al. v. Minister of Mineral Resources & Energy et. al. (#CancelCoal case)

Summary:
On 10 November 2021, three South African NGOs (the African Climate Alliance, Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action and groundWork) initiated a constitutional challenge against the South African government’s plans to augment its coal-fired electricity capacity. Also known as the #CancelCoal case, this challenge invokes the protection of environmental rights, the rights of children, the right to life and human dignity, the right to water, healthcare and food, and the right to equality and protection from discrimination. Noting that South Africa is one of the top 15 current global greenhouse gas emitters, the plaintiffs argue that the procurement of 1500 MW of new coal-fired power stations threatens the rights of present and future generations in South Africa, who will be “left to deal with the consequences of extreme weather events, heatwaves, droughts, coastal flooding, famine, cyclones and social upheavals”. They submit that the constitutional rights violations caused by the new coal plants “will disproportionately impact the poor and the vulnerable, including women, children and young people”.

More details on the challenge:
In terms of standing, the applicant organizations brought their case in their own direct interest, in the interests of their members, in the public interest, and in the interest of the environment, noting the “far reaching consequences for present and future generations”.

The applicants invoke section 24 of the South African Constitution, which recognizes the right to a healthy environment. They argue that, by ratifying international agreements on climate change, including the Paris Agreement, the State recognizes the threat for this right posed by climate change. They also invoke section 28(2) of the Constitution, which guarantees the protection of the best interests of the child, arguing that “children are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the further health risks caused by coal-fired power stations”. Noting that South Africa’s first NDC, submitted in 2015 and revised in 2021, committed to peaking emissions from 2020-2025, with net zero to be achieved by 2050, they submit scientific evidence from the IPCC to show the level of threat at hand and the different emissions reductions pathways discussed. Coal, they argue, “is the single most significant contributor to climate change”, and South Africa’s plants to procure more coal-fired power plants is “directly at odds” with global calls for action against coal, despite its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, including from heat, storms, drought, rising sealevels, loss of species and biodiversity, and the psychological harms linked to climate change, as well as economic costs associated with responding to the effects of climate change, which will “divert scarce resources allocated to alleviating powerty and promoting sustainable development”.

The applicants also argue that the government’s references to “clean coal” are scientifically unfounded, and that it is unrealistic to argue that carbon capture technologies will mitigate the impacts of the new coal plants. “Climate change is the ultimate collective action problem”, they submit, and collective efforts are needed. South Africa’s support for coal undermines the global efforts in this regard, is inconsistent with South Africa’s “fair share” obligations, and is detrimental to the environment in a number of ways.

Invoking the constitutional right to equality together with environmental rights, the applicants argue that the action in question produces unfair discrimination “on intersecting grounds of race, gender, and social origin. This is because poor, black South Africans, and particularly women and children, are the primary victims of ecological degradation and air pollution caused by coal-fired power. They will also be the worst affected by the climate crisis”, as recognized in the government’s Environmental Impact Assessment (para. 358 of the application).

In terms of remedies, the applicants seek the review and setting aside of the decisions to procure new coal plants.

Further developments:
On 8 December 2021, the President of South Africa issued notice that he does not intend to oppose the application and shall abide by the decision of the court. On the same date, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy issued notice of his intention to oppose the application.

On 12 December 2022, in what was described as an “early victory” in the case, the Pretoria High Court ordered the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy to release records relating to the decision to seek new coal power, and to pay the costs of the application.

Further reading:

The full application form in this case is available from climatecasechart.com, as are further documents on the case.

Suggested citation:
High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division (Pretoria), African Climate Alliance and others v. Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy and others, case no. 56907/2021, filed on 10 November 2021.

Last updated:
26 June 2023.

Categories
Adaptation Biodiversity Children and young people Climate activists and human rights defenders Climate-induced displacement Deforestation Emissions reductions/mitigation Evidence Gender / women-led Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Loss & damage Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to life Right to property Rights of nature Vulnerability

The 2023 Advisory Opinion Request to the IACtHR on the Climate Emergency

Summary:
On 9 January 2023, the governments of Colombia and Chile jointly filed a request for an advisory opinion on the climate emergency and human rights to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The two governments requested clarification of the scope of States’ obligations, both in their individual and collective dimensions, in responding to the climate emergency within the framework of international human rights law, taking into account the different effects that climate change has on people in different regions and on different population groups, nature and human survival.

The governments asked the Inter-American Court to answer a series of questions grouped into six thematic areas, namely:

A. On the scope of States’ obligations to protect and prevent, including regarding their obligations to mitigate, adapt, regulate and monitor, and their response to loss and damage;

B. On States’ obligations to protect the right to life given the existing climate science, and taking into account the right of access to information and transparency of information, including under the Escazú Agreement;

C. On the obligations of States with respect to the rights of children and new generations, given especially the vulnerability of children;

D. On the State’s obligations concerning consultative and judicial procedures, taking into account the limited remaining carbon budget;

E. On the protective and preventative obligations concerning environmental and land rights defenders, as well as women, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities; and

F. On shared and differentiated obligations and responsibilities in terms of the rights of States, the obligation of cooperation and given the impacts on human mobility (migration and forced displacement of people).

Extended summary:
In their request to the IACtHR, the two governments submit that they are already dealing with the consequences of the climate emergency, including the proliferation of droughts, floods, landslides and fires. These, they submit, underscore the need for a response based on the principles of equity, justice, cooperation and sustainability, as well as human rights. The two governments note that climate change is already putting humans and future generations at risk, but that its effects are not being experienced uniformly across the international community. Instead, given their geography, climatic conditions, socioeconomic conditions and infrastructure, they are particularly being felt in the most vulnerable communities, including several countries in the Americas. They emphasize that these effects are not proportionate to these countries’ and communities’ contribution to climate change.

The governments, in their request, emphasize the relevance of the right to a healthy environment, as well as other interrelated substantive and procedural rights (affecting life, human survival and future generations). They review the existing scientific evidence concerning the impacts and progression of climate change from the IPCC, and note the vulnerability of the Andean region. Emphasizing the utility of the human rights framework for understanding these harms, and “to advance and accelerate the collective response to the climate emergency in each State, regionally and globally”, they ask the Court to answer a series of questions “in order to provide guidance towards solutions based on human rights, with an intersectional perspective.” In doing so, they note the need for clear inter-American standards to accelerate the response to the climate emergency, arguing that while the concrete measures taken may vary, human rights obligations should be the framework for accelerating the response in a just, equitable and sustainable way.

The two governments refer to the 2017 Advisory Opinion of the IACtHR, which recognized the right to a healthy environment as an autonomous and individual right, and referred to the negative effects of climate change. However, they argue, there is a need to further clarify the human rights imapcts of climate change, and corresponding obligations. In this regard, they raise the existence also of collective rights for the protection of nature under international human rights and environmental law, and cite the need to protect fundamental biomes like the Amazon and to understand States’ shared but differentiated responsibilities in a way that copes with loss and damage. The two governments invite the Court to set out clear standards against the background of litigation and related developments, citing the Vanuatu advisory opinion request to the ICJ, the pending cases before the European Court of Human Rights, and the UN HRC’s Billy and ors. v. Australia case. An advisory opinion from the Court, they argue, would provide States with guidance for setting out domestic policies and programmes.

The questions asked:

A. On the State’s obligations of prevention and protection

Question A.1: What is the scope of States’ obligation to prevent climate phenomena created by global warming, including extreme events and slow-onset events, in accordance with their inter-American treaty obligations and in light of the Paris Agreement and the scientific consensus that calls to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C?

Question A.2: In particular, what actions should States take to minimize the impact of climate-related damage, in light of their obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)? In this regard, what differentiated measures must be taken with respect to vulnerable populations or intersectional considerations?

Question A.2.A.: What must States consider in implementing their obligation to (i) regulate, (ii) monitor and oversee, (iii) order and approve social and environmental impact studies, (iv) establish a contingency plan, and (v) mitigate activities within their jurisdiction that aggravate or may aggravate the climate emergency?

Question A.2.B.: What principles should guide action towards mitigation, adaptation and the response to loss and damage created by the climate emergency in affected communities?

B. On the State’s obligations to protect the right to life given the existing scientific consensus

Taking into account the right to access to information and the obligations concerning the active production and transparency of information derived from Arts. 14, 4.1 and 5.1. of the ACHR, in light of Arts. 5 and 6 of the Escazú Agreement, the governments ask the Court to determine:

Question B.1.: What is the scope of States’ obligations in the face of the climate emergency, in terms of:

  • (i) the environmental information required;
  • (ii) the mitigation and climate adaptation measures to be adopted to address the climate emergency and the impacts of such measures, including specific just transition policies for groups and people particularly vulnerable to global warming;
  • iii) responses to prevent, minimize and address economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change;
  • iv) the production of information and access to information on greenhouse gas emissions levels, air pollution, deforestation, and short-lived climate pollutants, analysis of sectors or activities that contribute to emissions, and more; and
  • v) establishing impacts on people, such as on human mobility (migration and forced displacement), effects on health and life, non-economic losses, etc.?

Question B.2.: To what extent does access to environmental information constitute a right that must be ensured to guarantee the rights to life, property, health, participation and access to justice, among other rights that are negatively affected by climate change, in accordance with the State’s obligations under the ACHR?

C. On the differentiated obligations of States with respect to the rights of children and new generations

Citing Art. 19 ACHR and Art. 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and recognizing the consensus of the scientific community that identifies children as the group most vulnerable in the long term to the imminent risks to life and well-being expected to result from the climate emergency, the govenments ask the Court to determine:

Question C.1.: What is the nature and scope of a State Party’s obligation to adopt timely and effective measures in the face of the climate emergency to ensure the protection of children’s rights derived from its obligations under Articles 1, 4, 5, 11 and 19 ACHR?

Question C.2: What is the nature and extent of a State Party’s obligation to provide children with meaningful and effective means to freely and fully express their views, including the opportunity to initiate, or otherwise participate in, any judicial or administrative proceedings concerning the prevention of climate change that constitutes a threat to their lives?

D. On the State’s obligations concerning consultative and judicial procedures

In consideration of Arts. 8 and 25 ACHR, and taking into account the scientific finding that there is a limited greenhouse gas budget that can still be emitted before reaching a dangerous and irrevocable level of climate change, and that this budget would be exhausted within a decade, the States ask the Court to clarify:

Question D.1.: What is the nature and extent of the State Parties’ obligation concerning to the provision of effective judicial remedies to provide adequate and timely protection and redress for the impairment of rights due to the climate emergency?

Question D.2.: To what extent should the obligation to consult take into account the climatic consequences of a given activity or projections concerning the emergency?

E. On the protective and preventative obligations concerning environmental and land rights defenders, as well as for women, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities

In accordance with Arts. 1.1 and 2 ACHR and Art. 9 of the Escazú Agreement, the governments as the IACtHR to determine:

Question E.1.: What measures and policies should States adopt in order to facilitate the work of environmental defenders?

Question E.2.: What specific considerations should be taken into account to guarantee women human rights defenders’ right to defend the healthy environment and their land?

Question E.3.: What specific considerations should be taken into account to guarantee the right to defend the healthy environment and land in light of intersectional factors and differentiated impacts, among others, on indigenous peoples, peasant communities and Afro-descendants?

Question E.4.: In the face of the climate emergency, what information should the State produce and publish in order to determine the possibility of investigating various crimes committed against human rights defenders, including reports of threats, kidnappings, homicides, forced displacement, gender violence, discrimination, etc.?

Question E.5.: What due diligence measures should States take into account to ensure that attacks and threats against environmental defenders in the context of the climate emergency do not go unpunished?

F. On shared and differentiated obligations and responsibilities in terms of the rights of States

Bearing in mind that the climate emergency affects the entire world, and that obligations to cooperate and repair arise from the ACHR and other international treaties:

Question F.1.: What considerations and principles should States and international organizations, collectively and regionally, take into account in analyzing shared but differentiated responsibilities in the face of climate change from a human rights and intersectionality perspective?

Question F.2.: How should States act both individually and collectively to guarantee the right to reparation for the damages generated by their actions or omissions in the face of the climate emergency, taking into account considerations of equity, justice and sustainability?

Taking into account that the climate crisis has a greater impact on some regions and populations, among them, the Caribbean, island and coastal countries and territories of the Americas, and their inhabitants:

Question F.3.: How should the obligations of cooperation between States be interpreted?

Question F.4.: What obligations and principles should guide the actions of States in order to ensure the right to life and survival of the most affected regions and populations in different countries and in the region?

Considering that one of the impacts of the climate emergency is to aggravate the factors that lead to human mobility (migration and forced displacement of people):

Question F.5.: What obligations and principles should guide the individual and coordinated actions to be taken by States in the region to address non-voluntary human mobility exacerbated by the climate emergency?

Consultation procedure:

In accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the IACtHR (Art. 73(3)), all interested parties (individuals and organizations) are invited to present a written opinion on the issues covered in the advisory opinion request. The President of the Court has established 18 August 2023 as the deadline for doing so. More information is available here.

Further information:

  • The text of the advisory opinion request is available here (in the official Spanish version as filed with the Court) and it has also been translated to English, French and Portuguese by the Court’s Secretariat.
  • For a comment by Juan Auz and Thalia Viveros-Uehara, see ‘Another Advisory Opinion on the Climate Emergency? The Added Value of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’, EJIL:Talk! Blog, 2 March 2023, available here.
  • For a comment from Maria Antonia Tigre, see ‘A Request for an Advisory Opinion at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Initial Reactions’, Climate Law Blog, 17 February 2023, available here.
Categories
Access to a remedy Emissions reductions/mitigation European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Gender / women-led Imminent risk Non-discrimination Private and family life Right to life Standing/admissibility The United Kingdom Victim status

Plan B. Earth and Others v. the United Kingdom

Summary:

On 11 July 2022, an application against the United Kingdom was filed before the European Court of Human Rights by the NGO Plan B. Earth and four individual applicants. The applicants argued that the United Kingdom’s government violated their rights under Articles 2, 8 and 14 of the ECHR by failing to take practical and effective measures to tackle the threat of anthropogenic climate change. They also submitted that they had suffered violations of their procedural rights under Articles 6 and 13 ECHR because they had been denied a full hearing of their case.

Citing the UK Government’s acknowledgment of the fact that climate change is a serious threat to humanity, the applicant NGO submitted that its membership included those “who are exposed to disproportionate and discriminatory impacts and risks, whether by virtue of age, gender, mental health or membership of racially marginalised communities, or because their family life is inextricably linked to communities on the frontline of the crisis.” The applicants also cited the State’s positive obligation to safeguard the right to life, and argued that the Paris Agreement, and its temperature goal of 1,5 degrees Celsius, are relevant in determining the scope of these positive obligations. They argued that practical and effective measures are required to ensure climate mitigation, adaptation, finance flows and loss and damage, and that the respondent State has failed in all four regards.

Victim status:

As concerns the applicants’ victim status, they argued that they were “victims” of the alleged Convention violations. They referred to domestic rules that increase the cost risk by £5,000 for each additional claimant in environmental cases; this rule serves to deter class actions, and therefore prevents applicants from sharing the cost and other risks involved in litigation. They noted that the first applicants’ members include individuals exposed to disproportionate and discriminatory impacts and risks as concerns their age, gender, membership of racially marginalised communities, family life inextricably linked with communities in the Global South, and mental health, and those who are at the intersection of such increased risks. They also noted that, given the high risk of overwhelming and irreversible interference with the applicants’ rights, denying them victim status would render their Convention rights theoretical and illusory.

Status of case:

The ECtHR declared the application inadmissible, holding that the applicants were not sufficiently affected by the alleged breach of the Convention or its Protocols to claim to be victims of a violation within the meaning of Art. 34 of the Convention. This decision was taken by a Committee judicial formation, as the result of a written procedure without a public decision.

According to Plan B Earth’s press release following the decision, the panel was composed of three judges, among which the UK Judge Tim Eicke.

Publication of decision:

Pending

Date of decision:

13 December 2022 (according to the ECtHR’s press release).

More information:

  • For the full text of the application form, click here.
  • For a press release from Plan B Earth on the filing, click here.
  • For the full claim before the High Court of Justice, click here.
  • For the Court of Appeals’ judgment, click here.

Suggested citation:
European Court of Human Rights, Plan B. Earth and Others v. the United Kingdom, Appl. no. 35057/22, Decision of 13 December 2022.

Last updated:
15 March 2023.


Categories
Access to a remedy Austria Children and young people Emissions reductions/mitigation European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights France Gender / women-led Italy Non-discrimination Norway Paris Agreement Portugal Private and family life Right to life Switzerland Turkey

De Conto and Uricchio v. Italy and 32 other States

Summary:
In 2021, two further cases in the style of the Duarte Agostinho application were brought before the European Court of Human Rights, this time by two young people from Italy. The cases were brought against 33 Council of Europe Member States, and refer to storms, forest fires and heat waves experienced by the applicants, as well as associated physical and psychological distress. The applicants, two women aged 18 and 20 at the time of filing, invoked Articles 2, 8, 13 and 14. They made arguments about the positive obligations to protect against environmental harm under Articles 2 and 8 ECHR, discrimination against younger generations, and a lack of access to effective domestic remedies given the excessive burden of being required to bring domestic proceedings in 33 States.

The application forms in these cases have not been made publicly available, and the cases had not yet been communicated by the Court at the time of writing. It had been announced, however, that the cases have been adjourned pending the outcome of Grand Chamber proceedings in three other climate cases (see the following section). More information on the cases will be published as it becomes available.

Status of case:

Adjourned until the Grand Chamber has ruled in the climate change cases pending before it (see the ECtHR’s press release here).

Suggested citation:

ECtHR, De Conto v. Italy and 32 other States, application no. 14620/21, submitted on 3 March 2021.

ECtHR, Uricchio v. Italy and 32 other States, application no. 14615/21, submitted on 3 March 2021.

More information (via climatecasechart.com):

On the De Conto case.

On the Uricchio case.

Last updated:

15 March 2023.

Categories
Business responsibility Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Extreme poverty Gender / women-led Indigenous peoples' rights Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to housing Right to life Right to subsistence/food Right to water Self-determination The Philippines Vulnerability

Greenpeace Southeast Asia and others v. the Carbon Majors

Summary:
This case was brought before the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by 12 organisations and 20 individuals, as well as over a thousand Filipino citizens who expressed their support for the case through a petition, against the so-called ‘carbon majors’, i.e. high-emitting multinational and state-owned producers of natural gas, crude oil, coal and cement, including BP, Shell and Chevron. The applicants based their case on research indicating that these ‘carbon majors’ are responsible for a large percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. Citing the Philippines’ high degree of vulnerability to the effects of climate change, the applicants alleged violations of the rights to life, health, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and self-determination. They also specifically invoked the rights of vulnerable groups, peoples and communities, including women, children, people living with disabilities, those living in extreme poverty, indigenous peoples, and displaced persons. They invoked also the right to development, labor rights, and the right to ‘a balanced and healthful ecology’. This petition was brought after a number particularly destructive typhoons that affected the Philippines, including Typhoon Haiyan.

As a result of the petition, the CHR began a dialogical and consultative process, called the National Inquiry on Climate Change (NICC). This process aims to determine the impact of climate change on the human rights of the Filipino people, as well as determining whether the Carbon Majors are responsible for climate change.

On 6 May 2022, the Human Rights Commission released the findings of its inquiry.

Responsible instance:
The case was brought before the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, which is an independent National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, established on 5 May 1987 by Executive Order No. 163.

Date filed:
22 September 2015

Procedural steps in the case:
On 10 December 2015, the Commission announced during the Paris Climate Change Conference that it would take cognizance of the case.

On 21 July 2016, the Commission enjoined the respondent Carbon Majors to file their comments or answers to the petition within forty-five days. Out of the 47 respondents summoned, 15 submitted a response. Thirteen amicus curiae briefs were received. The applicants filed a reply, to which seven of the carbon majors filed a rejoinder.

Beginning July and November 2017, the Commission conducted community visits and dialogues to select climate impacted areas.

On 11 December 2017, the parties held a first preliminary conference. The Commission used this opportunity to deny the respondents’ jurisdictional objections to the case. It asserted its authority to investigate the case and hold public hearings in 2018 in Manila, New York, and London.

In 2018, the Commission held six public hearings in the case.

Outcome of the NICC:
On 6 May 2022, the Human Rights Commission released the findings of its inquiry. In his introductory note, Commissioner Roberto Eugenio T. Cadiz outlined the lengths taken by the Commission to engage with the “carbon majors” over this case, and noted that corporate actors, and not just States, have an obligation to respect and uphold human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). He also noted the unprecedented nature of the claim, and the Commission’s own lack of resources in dealing with it. And he rejected the argument by the “carbon majors” that the Commission did not have territorial or subject matter jurisdiction to deal with the case, noting the interrelated nature of all human rights and the impact on the people of the Philippines.

In its report, the Commission began by reviewing the best available scientific knowledge on climate change. It set out, “as established by peer-reviewed science, that climate change is real and happening on a global scale”, and that it is anthropogenic, i.e. caused by human activity. It then set out that climate change is a human rights issue, noting its adverse impacts on human rights both internationally and in the Philippines. It focused particularly on impacts concerning the right to life, the right to health, the right to food security, the right to water and sanitation, the right to livelihood, the right to adequate housing, the right to the preservation of culture, the right to self-determination and to development, and the right to equality and non-discrimination, focusing on the rights of women, children, indigenous peoples, older persons, people living in poverty, LGBTQIA+ rights. It also noted the impacts on the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and on the rights of future generations and intergenerational equity.

After considering the duties of States to protect human rights, as the primary duty-bearers of human rights law, the Commission found that these rights also include extraterritorial obligations, and that while a balance between sovereignty and human rights must be sought, “States’ duty to protect is not confined to territorial jurisdiction”. It relied on international environmental law to identify the concrete procedural and substantive obligations on States in the context of climate change, and their obligation to protect vulnerable sectors against discrimination.

The Commission considered that the refusal of governments to engage in meaningful mitigation action regarding climate change constitutes a human rights violation. It held that “[t]he pursuit of the State obligation to mitigate climate change cannot just be framed as aspirational, where the standard of fulfillment is vague and the timeline is uncertain. Concrete metrics must be set against which States may be held accountable. Failing this, States enable the human rights of their citizens to be harmed, which equates to a violation of their duty to protect human rights” (p. 87). The absence of meaningful action to address global warming, it held, suffices in this regard; these obligations of States include an obligation to regulate corporate activities, and to establish a policy environment that discourages reliance on fossil fuels.

The Commission then turned to business responsibilities, noting that “a State’s failure to perform [its duty to enact and enforce appropriate laws to ensure that corporate actors respect human rights] does not render business enterprises free from the responsibility of respecting human rights.” Referring to the UNGP framework and the UN Global Compact as well as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Corporations, it applied these standards to the context of climate change. It found that:

  • The anthropogenic contributions of the “carbon majors” to climate change is quantifiable and substantial;
  • The “carbon majors” had early awareness, notice or knowledge of their products’ adverse impacts on the environment and climate systems;
  • The “carbon majors” engaged in willful obfuscation or obstruction to prevent meaningful climate action;
  • The “carbon majors” have the corporate responsibility to undertake human rights due diligence and provide remediation, including through every entity in their value chain;
  • And the UNGPs may be relied on under the law of the Philippines.

It went on to issue a number of recommendations. Concerning States, it called for climate justice, including a pooling of resources and sharing of skills, and urged governments to:

  • Undertake to discourage dependence on fossil fuels, including by phasing out all coal power fossil fuel subsidies and other incentives;
  • To collaborate on innovative climate action and guarantee the enjoyment by all of the benefits of science and technology;
  • To cooperate towards the creation of a legally binding instrument to strengthen the implementation of the UNGPs, and provide redress to victims of corporate human rights impacts;
  • To concretize the responsibilities of corporate actors in the climate context;
  • To discourage anthropogenic contributions to climate change and compensate victims;
  • To ensure access to adaptation measures by all, as well as equality and non-discrimination in climate adaptation and mitigation measures;
  • And to ensure a just transition towards an environmentally sustainable economy;
  • As well as to fulfil climate finance commitments and devise new mechanisms for loss and damage from climate change-related events;
  • To adequately support and protect environmental defenders and climate activists;
  • To promote climate change awareness and education;
  • To include military operations and supply chains in carbon accounting;
  • And to strengthen shared efforts to conserve and restore forests and other terrestrial ecosystems.

The Commission also formulated concrete recommendations for the “carbon majors” themselves, urging them to:

  • Publicly disclose their due diligence and climate and human rights impact assessment results, and the measures taken in response thereto;
  • Desist from all activities that undermine the findings of climate science, including “climate denial propaganda” and lobbying activities;
  • Cease further exploration of new oil fields, keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and lead the just transition to clean energy;
  • Contribute to a green climate fund for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures;
  • And continually engage with experts, CSOs, and other stakeholders to assess and improve the corporate climate response through “a new chapter of cooperation towards a united front for climate action”.

Speaking directly to financial institutions and investors, the Commission noted their ability to “steer companies and industries towards a sustainable path by aligning lending and investment portfolios with targets set by science”. It considered that their role in financing sectors and projects that generate greenhouse gas emissions make them “similarly accountable for global warming”. Accordingly, they were urged to:

  • Refrain from financing fossil fuel related projects and instead direct capital towards green projects; and
  • Exert social, political and economic pressure on the fossil fuel industry to transition to clean energy by divesting financial instruments related to fossil fuels.

The Commission concluded by noting the role of UN institutions, NHRIs, and courts — reviewing examples of climate litigation such as the Urgenda or Leghari cases, noting that “even when courts do not rule in favor of the claimants, they still contribute to meaningful climate response through their elucidation of the law and the rights and obligations of the parties”. Similarly, NGOs, CSOs, the legal profession and individuals are recommended to champion human rights and continue engaging in strategic litigation to strengthen business and human rights norms, change policy, increase governments’ ambitions, and create precedents.

The Commission furthermore addressed the Philippines’ own lackluster record of climate action, making concrete recommendations to the government to, among other things, formulate a national action plan on business and human rights, declare a climate and environmental alert, and revisit its NDC under the Paris Agreement as well as implement coal moratoriums, transition to low-carbon transportation systems, implementing REDD+ measures and data building and reporting mechanisms, and create legislative change. It also recommended to the domestic judiciary to create rules of evidence for attributing climate change impacts and assessing damages, and take note of the anthropogenic nature of climate change.

Suggested citation:
Philippines Human Rights Commission, In Re: National Inquiry on the Impact of Climate Change on the Human Rights of the Filipino People and the Responsibility therefor, if any, of the ‘Carbon Majors’, case nr. CHR-NI-2016-0001, Report of 6 May 2022.

Further information:
The full text of the petition is available here.

The report of 6 May 2022 is available here.

A blogpost on the importance of the report by Annalisa Savaresi and Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh is available on the GNHRE blog.

For additional resources provided by the Commission, such as transcripts of hearings and evidence submitted, click here.

Categories
Elderly Emissions reductions/mitigation European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights Fair trial Gender / women-led Keywords Margin of appreciation Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life Switzerland Victim status

Verein KlimaSeniorinnen et al. v. Switzerland

Summary:
In 2016, the Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland (German: ‘Verein KlimaSeniorinnen’), a Swiss organisation, brought proceedings concerning the alleged omissions of the Swiss federal government to adopt an adequate climate protection policy. They submitted that current domestic climate targets and measures are not sufficient to limit global warming to a safe level. This failure to prevent climate-related disasters, they argue, represents a failure to protect the enjoyment of the rights under Articles 2 and 8 ECHR (the rights to life and respect for private and family life, respectively) of the organization’s members. The applicants also invoke two procedural rights under the Convention, namely the rights in Articles 6 and 13 ECHR (right to a fair trial and right to an effective remedy, respectively).

These claims were rejected by the domestic instances at three levels of jurisdiction. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court, in its ruling, considered that the case represented an actio popularis, concerned questions better suited to the political arena, and did not raise an arguable claim of a rights violation.

This case was only the second climate change-related case to come to Strasbourg. Like the Duarte Agostinho case, this application raises novel questions before the Court, including the issue of victim status in climate cases, the standing of (environmental) NGOs to bring cases to the Court, and the extent of the State margin of appreciation in regard to environmental protection measures related to climate change, and the extent of the positive obligation to protect individuals from the risks to their life and health posed by climate change.

Third-party interventions:
There have been an unusually large (for the ECtHR) number of third party interventions in this case: 23 in total. The KlimaSeniorinnen association has provided copies of all of the third-party interventions; these are available here. Some of the third-party interveners will also appear during the oral hearing before the Grand Chamber.

Admissibility:

Pending

Merits:

Pending

Remedies:

Pending

Separate opinions:

Pending

Implementation measures taken:

N/A

Date of decision:

Pending

Type of Forum:

Regional

Status of case:

This case was communicated to the respondent State, Switzerland, on 17 March 2021. On 26 April 2022, a Chamber of the Court relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber, held a public hearing in this case on 29 March 2023. A webcast of the hearing is available here.

Grand Chamber hearing:

This was the first climate case heard by the European Court of Human Rights, followed immediately by the Carême v. France case. The Court has adjourned its examination of six other climate cases until the Grand Chamber has ruled in the three climate change cases before it, meaning that leading judgments clarifying the Convention obligations around cliamte change can be expected in these cases.

During the hearing, submissions were heard from the applicants, the respondent State, and two of the 23 total third-party interveners (the Government of Ireland & the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI). A live summary of the hearing is available here.

Suggested case citation:

ECtHR,Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz and Others v. Switzerland, no. 53600/20, Communicated Case, 17 March 2021, relinquishment to the Grand Chamber on 26 April 2022.

Links:

Webcast of the hearing:

To watch a webcast recording of the public hearing in this case, which was held before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on 29 March 2023, click here (available in French and English).

Last updated:

5 October 2023

Categories
2019 Domestic court Emissions reductions/mitigation Gender / women-led Non-discrimination Pakistan Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to a healthy environment Right to life Uncategorized Vulnerability

Maria Khan et al. v. Federation of Pakistan et al.

Summary
Five people identifying themselves as women filed a writ petition, under Article 199 of the Constitution of Pakistan, against the Federation of Pakistan, the Ministry of Climate Change, the Ministry of Energy, the Alternative Energy Development Board, and the Central Power Purchasing Agency. The petitioners alleged a violation of their fundamental rights, recognized by Articles 4 (inalienable rights), 9 (right to life), 14 (right to privacy) and 25 (equality of citizens, notably regardless of sex) of the Constitution of Pakistan, as the respondents infringed their right to a clean and healthy environment and a climate capable of sustaining human life (as recognized in the Leghari v. Pakistan case) by failing to take climate change mitigation measures, and specifically measures to develop renewable energy resources and transition to a low-carbon economy.

The petitioners highlighted that Pakistan had ratified the Paris Agreement and submitted its INDC, committing to a reduction of 20% of its 2030 projected GHG emissions, but then failed to engage in any renewable energy power project. This was seen to represent an abdication of the respondents’ responsibilities under the Public Trust Doctrine (namely their duty to act as trustees of the natural resources of the country), and a violation of the jurisprudence of the seized Court on environmental and climate justice.

Notably, the petitioners claimed that being women and mothers, they are particularly endangered by global warming and disadvantaged in the context of the climate crisis, as documented in scientific research and international reports. Therefore, the respondents have allegedly violated Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan in that climate change disproportionately affects the rights of the petitioners and more broadly of all Pakistani women.

The remedies demanded by the petitioners are: the declaration of the violation of the above-mentioned fundamental rights and of the breach of Pakistan’s commitments under the Paris Agreement; the declaration of a positive duty on the respondents to encourage and support the development of renewable energy projects to reduce GHG emissions and mitigate climate change impacts; the order to implement and enforce the Paris Agreement to the fullest extent possible and to create and implement an integrated policy towards climate resilient development.

Date of filing:
14 February 2019, Misc. Writ 8960/19

Date of last hearing:
21 January 2021

Jurisdiction:
High Court of Lahore, Pakistan

Documents:

  • Petition (in English, via Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s Global Climate Litigation Database)
  • Order (in English, via Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s Global Climate Litigation Database)

More information:
Independently of the above-summarized judicial proceeding, on 21 July 2022, the Government of Pakistan adopted the “Climate Change Gender Action Plan of the Government and People of Pakistan” (you can read it here).

Last Updated:
18 May 2023