Categories
Biodiversity Brazil Deforestation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights International Criminal Court Right to a healthy environment Right to culture Right to health

The Prosecutor v. Bolsonaro

Summary:
On 12 October 2021, the Austrian NGO AllRise, which advocates for interests linked with the environment, democracy, and the rule of law, submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court in the Hague concerning acting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Although NGOs cannot initiate proceedings before the ICC, the Prosecutor can do so proprio motu (Art. 15(1) Rome Statute), and the communication’s aim is to convince the Prosectuor to do so regarding President Bolsonaro’s policy on the Amazon rainforest.

AllRise contends that the Bolsonaro government’s socio-economic policy has put the lives of environmental advocates at risk, and has dismantled the protections of the environment that were previously available under domestic law, which as facilitated the activities of criminal networks. By failing to prosecute the perpetrators of environmental crimes and undermining the protection of the climate, human health, and justice, AllRise argues, the Bolsonaro government has committed crimes against humanity, as proscribed by the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The NGO’s communication is supported by the Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima), a network of 70 Brazilian civil society organizations.

Human rights claims:
AllRise argues that ‘these Environmental Dependents and Defenders have been and continue to be the subject of Crimes Against Humanity through severe deprivations of their fundamental and universal right to a healthy environment (also known as R2E) and other human rights related thereto’ (para. 15). It likewise invoked the rights of indigenous peoples, arguing that ‘[t]he destruction of the rainforest and the rivers of the Amazon has a devastating impact on the traditional, cultural and spiritual way of life of Indigenous peoples and others who depend upon the forest’ (para. 164). The NGO also describes the background of attacks and violence against environmental activists and human rights defenders (paras. 201-208).

More information:
To read the full complaint, click here.

Categories
Business responsibility Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Evidence Right to a healthy environment Right to health South Africa

South African ‘Deadly Air Case’

Summary:
This case concerns toxic air pollution in the Mpumalanga Highveld, which is home to a dozen coal-fired power plants, a coal-to-liquids plant and a refinery. The case was brought by two environmental organisations – groundWork and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action – represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The applicants have petitioned the court to declare the unsafe levels of air pollution to be a violation of section 24a of the South African Constitution, which provides that “everyone has the right to an environment not harmful to their health or wellbeing”. 

The outcome of the case is currently pending before the Pretoria High Court, and Judge Colleen Collins has reserved judgment.

Claims:
The applicants’ complaints concern exposure to toxic chemicals emitted by the coal plants. This includes sulphur dioxide, heavy metals like mercury, and fine particulate matter. According to the applicants, the coal plants are responsible for the majority of these emissions, which are causing chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma and lung cancer, and which also increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, birth defects and premature deaths. 

The area in question has been recognized as a hotspot of pollution in excess of permissible levels. It has been claimed that this pollution is responsible for up to 10,000 excess deaths per year. But the Government has pointed to the existence of clean air regulations, and argued that there is no scientific evidence proving the link between the air pollution and the harms allegedly suffered by any particular individual. It has also highlighted the need to realize the right to a healthy environment progressively.

Amicus curia intervention by the UNSR:
David R. Boyd, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, intervened as an amicus curiae in this case. He argued that poor and marginalised people disproportionately carry the burden of toxic air pollution. It has been reported that Boyd’s arguments include consideration for the vulnerability of children to environmental threats.

Deciding body:
Pretoria High Court

Admissibility:
TBD

Merits:
TBD

Remedies and outcomes:
TBD

Further reading:
For more information from the Centre for Environmental Resources, click here.

Suggested citation:
South African ‘Deadly Air’ case, Pretoria High Court, hearings held on 17-19 May 2021.

Categories
Business responsibility Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Extreme poverty 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
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Human dignity Right to a healthy environment Right to health United States of America

Held and Others v. Montana

Summary:
In Held and Others, sixteen young plaintiffs — aged between two and eighteen — brought a case against the U.S. state of Montana alleging violations of the state constitution due to climate change. The young plaintiffs in this case, which is to some extent comparable to the Juliana litigation, alleged that they are already experiencing ‘a host of adverse consequences’ from anthropogenic climate change in Montana, including increased temperatures, changing weather patterns, more acute droughts and extreme weather events, increasing wildfires and glacial melt. They argued that this was causing health risks, especially for children, and that the defendants, among them the state of Montana, its Governor, and various state agencies, had “act[ed] affirmatively to exacerbate the climate crisis” despite their awareness of the risk of harm to the applicants. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that their right to a clean and healthy environment includes a right a stable climate, and that existing approaches to greenhouse gas emissions in Montana violate constitutional provisions, including the right to a clean and healthy environment; the right to seek safety, health, and happiness; and the right to individual dignity and to equal protection. They also sought injunctive relief, namely an order to account for the state’s Montana’s greenhouse gas emissions and to develop and implement an emissions reductions plan.

Decision on the admissibility:
On 4 August 2021, a the Montana First Judicial District Court for Lewis and Clark County declared the case admissible in part. The prayer for injunctive relief in terms of emissions accounting, a remedial plan or policy, the appointment of expert to assist the court, and retain jurisdiction until such orders are complied with were rejected. However, the court declared the constitutional rights claims admissible, including the claim about the plaintiffs’ ‘fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment’, which — as the plaintiffs submit — ‘includes a stable climate system that sustains human lives and liberties’.

Date filed:
13 March 2020

Date of admissibility decision:
4 August 2021

More information:
The original complaint is available from the Western Environmental Law Center.
The admissibility decision is available over on climatecasechart.com.

Suggested citation:
Montana First District Court for Lewis and Clark county, Held and others v. State of Montana and others, order on motion to dismiss, 4 August 2021, Cause No. CDV-2020-307.

Categories
2020 Domestic court Emissions reductions Mexico Non-discrimination Right to a healthy environment Right to health

Greenpeace Mexico v. Ministry of Energy and Others

Summary:
This indirect amparo suit was brought by Greenpeace Mexico against the Mexican government, contesting the Mexican Sectoral Energy Plan for 2020-2024. Greenpeace argued that this policy promotes the use of fossil fuels over sustainable energy sources, thereby violating fundamental rights. The case invokes the pro persona principle and the human and constitutional rights to equality, a healthy environment, the protection of health, and access to renewable energy, as well as the legality principle. It also invokes the principle of progressive interpretation of human rights and the concept of positive and negative obligations.

In 2020, a Mexico City District Court ordered the suspension of the policy in an injunction.

Procedural steps:
The Third District Administrative Court for Mexico City declined to hear the case on grounds of lack of specialization in the matter. On 8 September 2020, the Mexico City District Court accepted to hear the case.

On 21 September 2020, the Mexico City District Court issued an injunction suspending the Sectoral Energy Plan (2020-2024). The court noted the imminence and irreparability of the harms at stake, finding that the it was an ‘indisputable fact’ that the limitation of the production and use of renewable energies encourages the operation of conventional electricity generation technologies using fossil fuels and thereby causing greater emissions, which affects human healthy and the environment. Because of this, the degree of imminence and irreparability of the risk at stake did not require specific proof, because it had been established through logical reasoning (p. 29).

Date of filing:
20 August 2020

Suggested citation:
Mexico City District Court, Greenpeace Mexico v. Ministry of Energy and Others, injunction no. 372/2020, 21 September 2020.

More information:
The full text of the injunction is provided on climatecasechart.com.

Categories
2018 Biodiversity Domestic court Emissions reductions Imminent risk Margin of appreciation Nepal Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to life Right to subsistence/food

Padam Bahadur Shrestha v. Office of Prime Minister and Others

Facts of the case:

The petitioner, Padam Bahadur Shrestha had applied to the concerned authorities in Nepal to enact a separate law on climate change in August 2018, but did not receive a response. He thus filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Nepal alleging that the situation in Nepal that is marked by absence of a special climate change legislation, inadequacies in existing environmental legislation in addressing climate change, and poor implementation of the State’s climate change policy suffices to establish a violation of the right to life, right to live in a healthy and clean environment, right to health care and right to food found in Articles 16, 30, 35, and 36 of the Nepali Constitution.

Date of decision:

25 December 2018

Court’s decision:

The Supreme Court of Nepal found that an amendment to the existing laws and introduction of a new consolidated law that addresses climate change was necessary and issued detailed directions on what features the new law must contain. It based this order on the reasons that such would facilitate Nepal’s compliance with its obligations under international law, including the Paris Agreement and that climate mitigation and adaptation directly concern fundamental rights including the right to life, right to have nutritious food and the right to a clean environment. It further held that although the Environmental Protection Act of 1997 addressed environmental protection along the dimension of climate change, its provisions were inadequate regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Status of the case:

Decided.

Suggested case citation:

The Supreme Court of Nepal, Padam Bahadur Shreshta v Office of the Prime Minister and Others, NKP, Part 61, Vol. 3, judgment of 25 December 2018.

Case documents:

For the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nepal (in Nepali), click here.

For an unofficial English translation of the judgment (authored by Hardik Subedi), click here.

Categories
Canada Emissions reductions Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food

Arctic Athabaskan Council v. Canada

Summary:
This case, brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by Athabaskan people living in Canada, concerned alleged rights violations relating to Arctic warming and melting caused by Canadian black carbon emissions. The case alleged that Canada, by failing to regulate black carbon emissions, had violated various human rights of the Athabaskan people, including their rights to health, subsistence, property, and culture.

The complaint:
The applicants in this case allege that Canada’s emissions of black carbon, which is a component of sooty fine-particle pollution and stems largely from diesel emissions and the burning of biomass, is particularly harmful to their rights and way of life because it is emitted in or near the Arctic.

The applicants submit that the warming effect of black carbon on the global climate is second only to carbon dioxide. In the Arctic, black carbon warms in two ways: it absorbs sunlight in the air, and it reduces the reflectivity of ice and snow-covered surfaces, accelerating their rate of melting.

In particular, the applicants cite their right to culture, particularly their ability to transmit their cultural knowledge to future generations, because “Arctic warming and melting has made the weather, the hunt, and the behaviors and occurrence of fish and wildlife so erratic that elders no longer feel confident in teaching younger people traditional ways.”

The also argue that warming and melting has affected the integrity of the land, compromising their right to property. This includes floods, forest fires, melting permafrost, erosion-related harms and landslides, as well as the destruction of cultural and historic sites and increased difficulty in accessing resources. The Athabaskans also invoke their right to means of subsistence, citing difficulties in accessing traditional food sources and adverse effects on biodiversity. Lastly, they cite their right to health, arguing that the loss of traditional foods has adversely affected the Athabaskan way of life. Melting permafrost is affecting water quality, and the loss of traditional food sources is forcing the people to rely on purchased food, leading to increases in the prevalence of chronic diseases.

Before the Commission, the applicants allege that the Canadian state’s acts and omissions represent an ongoing violation of their human rights, and that there are no domestic remedies suitable for addressing these violations. They argue that Canada has failed to take action to reduce black carbon emissions, and that such action could substantially remedy the Arctic warming and melting that are causing the violations at stake. They accordingly request the Commission to investigate and confirm the alleged harms; set forth the facts and applicable law, declaring a violation of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and recommend steps to limit black carbon emissions and protect Arctic Athabaskan culture and resources from Arctic warming and melting.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
23 April 2013

Status of case:
Pending

Suggested citation:
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Arctic Athabaskan Peoples v. Canada, petition submitted on 23 April 2013, case pending.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see

The full text of the petition has been made available here by EarthJustice here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/AAC_PETITION_13-04-23a.pdf

For a summary of the petition, provided by EarthJustice, click here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/library/legal_docs/summary-of-inuit-petition-to-inter-american-council-on-human-rights.pdf

Further reading:
Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Climate Change—Business as Usual or a Breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.

Categories
2006 Biodiversity Emissions reductions Extraterritorial obligations Freedom of movement Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Private and family life Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food United States of America

Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. the United States of America

Summary:
Filed in 2005 by members of the Inuit people living in Canada, this application concerned the climate change-related responsibility of the United States of America. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights refused to examine the case on the grounds that the information provided was insufficient.

More information on the petition:
In this petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuk woman and Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference living in Canada, sought relief from human rights violations related to climate change caused by the acts and omissions of the United States. Ms. Watt-Cloutier, on behalf of herself, 62 other individuals, and all of the Inuit of the arctic regions of the United States of America and Canada, sought relief against the effects of climate change, which — it was argued — have the potential to affect every aspect of the life of the Inuit people, including the quality of the permafrost, land and water, biodiversity and food sources, and cultural rights. The petitioners relied on the United States’ obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other instruments that shape these obligations under the Declaration, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This case was extraterritorially framed: it was brought by Inuit people living in Canada, but against the United States of America for its climate change-related human rights impacts. The petitioners argued that the acts and omissions by the United States had violated the Inuit’s rights to the benefits of culture, to property, to the preservation of health, life, physical integrity, security, and a means of subsistence, and to residence, movement, and inviolability of the home under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other international instruments.

Outcome:
On 16 November 2006, the Commission refused to consider the petition because it considered that it had provided insufficient information. Specifically, it found that the petition did not “enable us [the Commission] to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration”.

The Commission held a hearing in 2007 concerning the case, however it did not revisit its decision not to examine the complaints made.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
7 December 2005

Suggested citation:
IACHR, Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. USA, petition rejected on 7 December 2005

Full text of the petition:
The text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com. Click here to access it.

The video of the 2007 hearing is available here.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see:

Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s petition to the Inter-American Commission on human rights and climate change—business as usual or a breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.