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Human Rights and Climate Change in the Philippines

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In the past decade, we have seen the successful infiltration of human rights discourses into the conventionally physical science-dominated climate change debate and research. A series of key documents recognize this linkage, including the Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution, numerous reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, the 4th and 5th Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Paris Agreement adopted at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – in addition to an emergence of other relevant studies. Such coupling seems to be perfect when bridging the disciplinary divide and giving more weight to human-faced repercussions of climate change. But why would the human rights approach be more effective in arousing urgency to combat climate change, compared with other framings such as economic loss, environmental catastrophe, resource conflicts, threats to international peace and security? What are the added values which human rights narratives and instruments bring to the table? In reality, the trailblazing is not rosy and may require a bit of rethinking.

We can reflect on these questions by observing the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR). In December 2018, the CHR completed its three-year landmark inquiry of the petition submitted by a group of civil society organizations – led by Greenpeace together with typhoon victims and concerned citizens. The petitioners requested CHR to investigate the Carbon Majors’ responsibility for human rights violations from climate change impacts. The Carbon Majors are transnational fossil fuel and cement companies – Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, among others – that are in top ranks of global CO2 emitters. The full report is soon to be launched this year. In a statement, Commissioner Roberto Cadiz – who heads the investigation panel – pointed out that the CHR should be more idealistic in going beyond technical and jurisdictional challenges. Still, there are precautions the CHR must not shy away from in this innovative undertaking.

First, the nature of climate change exacerbates the complexity in tracing human........

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