Establishing responsibility for the impacts of climate change

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Dr Annalisa Savaresi

The links between climate change impacts – including storms, wildfires and environmental damage – and human rights obligations were debated at a public event involving a University of Stirling academic at the London School of Economics.

Dr Annalisa Savaresi, Lecturer in Environmental Law in Stirling’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, joined the public debate, hosted by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The event marked the conclusion of the UK hearings of the Carbon Majors Inquiry by the Philippines Human Rights Commission. The inquiry is the world’s first investigation of its kind and aims to establish whether the largest producers of crude oil, natural gas, coal and cement – so called Carbon Majors – are responsible for human rights violations resulting from the impacts of climate change in the Philippines. The hearings are live streamed here.

The inquiry was initiated after Super Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines, causing widespread loss of life, and damage to property and local livelihood. Dr Savaresi has provided technical advice to the Commission in the context of its inquiry.

In a joint blogpost with Dr Joana Setzer, research officer at the Grantham Research Institute, Dr Savaresi explained how the Carbon Majors inquiry was initiated by a group of Filipino citizens and civil society organisations. Their arguments rely on a study by Richard Heede, which attributes the majority of cumulative global carbon dioxide and methane emissions since the industrial revolution to the largest producers of crude oil, natural gas, coal and cement.

Like other national human rights institutions, the Commission has a constitutional mandate to investigate allegations of violations of human rights, but does not have the power to provide compensation to victims.

It can, however, declare that human rights have been violated and provide recommendations on how to address and redress the violations it detects. The fact that none of the Carbon Majors is headquartered in the Philippines, however, makes its work rather complex.

Dr Savaresi and Ms Setzer wrote: “Should the investigation acknowledge that the Carbon Majors are responsible for the impacts of climate change, it may spark a domino effect, similar to that witnessed in relation to litigation for harm caused by tobacco: once a causal link is established, it may be only a matter of time before courts start to award damages to victims.

“The Carbon Majors are already being brought to court in the US and in Germany for damage caused by climate change. The outcome of the Carbon Majors inquiry therefore resonates well beyond the Philippines and may mark a milestone in the history of climate change litigation worldwide.”

Dr Savaresi added: “All eyes are now on the Philippines to see what conclusions the Carbon Majors inquiry will draw; but the Commission has already made history by deciding to investigate the Carbon Majors in the first place.”

The event featuring Dr Savaresi took place on 8 November. A recording of the event is available here:

During the event, a student competition to support the drafting of the Philippines Human Rights Commission’s recommendations was launched. The competition is supported by the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change in the Philippines, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the University of Stirling. Details of the competition are available here: