A new report released Friday by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines says the world’s biggest polluters should be held accountable for their outsize role in climate disasters, and provides a legal argument to do just that. While the human rights commission can’t penalize the companies itself, advocates hope the report paves the way for communities to seek justice in the courts.

The report “sets a solid legal basis for asserting that climate-destructive business activities by fossil fuel and cement companies contribute to human rights harms,” said Yeb Saño, the Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director, in a release. “The message is clear: these corporate behemoths cannot continue to transgress human rights and put profit before people and planet.”

The inquiry began seven years ago after survivors of Typhoon Haiyan and local organizations banded together to demand an investigation into fossil fuel companies and their role in climate change-driven human rights violations. The 2013 storm, one of the strongest typhoons on record, left some 6,300 dead, 29,000 injured, and 1,800 missing. “We should not only be counting the victims of climate change or being counted among them,” wrote the petitioners.

According to the report, 47 global oil, gas, coal, and cement companies — including ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron — contributed to 21.4 percent of global emissions. The commission concludes that the companies, dubbed the “Carbon Majors,” “engaged in willful obfuscation” of climate science, hindering worldwide efforts to transition to clean energy and directly violating citizens’ rights to health, water, sanitation, livelihood, and cultural preservation.

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The report also traces the Carbon Majors’ history of misinformation and says that the companies knew the climate consequences of their operations since at least 1965. It highlights a study on ExxonMobil, which, over a 37-year period, sponsored research that largely advanced climate science at the same time it purchased newspaper ads to cast doubt on that science. 

“All acts to obfuscate climate science and delay, derail, or obstruct this transition may be a basis for liability,” the report says. “Obstructionist efforts are driven, not by ignorance, but by greed.” 

Within the Philippines, women, children, and up to 17 million Indigenous people disproportionately bear the burden of climate disasters. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, the Philippines is the fourth most-affected country in the world, facing drought, food insecurity, water scarcity, violent storms, and sea level rise. However, the small archipelagic nation is responsible for just 0.3 percent of global emissions. 

The report’s authors call on the Filipino government to abandon fossil fuels, create laws that hold businesses responsible for human rights abuses, and establish a fund to compensate victims of climate disasters. On the business side, they recommend publicly disclosing human rights impact assessments and encourage investors to exert pressure toward fossil fuel divestment. 

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“The fact alone that human activity contributes to climate change, makes [it] the duty and the responsibility of all parties to address this,” said Roberto Eugenio Cadiz, then commissioner of the human rights office, in a press briefing on Friday. “States have an obligation and duty, and businesses have a responsibility to address these challenges.”

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