Using Human Rights Law to Address the Impacts of Climate Change: Early Reflections on the Carbon Majors Inquiry
16 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2018 Last revised: 18 Jul 2019
Date Written: November 2, 2018
The quest for remedies to address harm associated with the impacts of climate change has recently seen a surge in complaints based on human rights arguments. The use of human rights law as a tool to redress harm caused by climate change depends upon whether a victim can substantiate a claim that a duty bearer has contributed to climate change, in such a way as to amount to a human rights violation. Qualifying the effects of climate change as human rights violations, however, poses technical obstacles concerning causality, retrospectivity, attribution, as well as the provision of an adequate remedy. Yet, these obstacles are not insurmountable. As scientific knowledge improves, tracing causal connections between particular emissions and resultant harms is becoming less difficult. These arguments are being tested in the context of the so-called ‘Carbon Majors’ inquiry by the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines. The inquiry concerns the responsibility of a group of global corporations – dubbed the ‘Carbon Majors’ and including the likes of BP, Chevron, Exxon and Shell – for human rights violations or threats thereof resulting from the impacts of climate change. This paper looks at the Carbon Majors inquiry to critically appraise the role of human rights law in solving complex questions associated with responsibility for the impacts of climate change, until other areas of law raise to this challenge. The paper builds on the authors’ experience providing expert advice in the context of the Carbon Majors inquiry. The inquiry will therefore be used as a point of departure to unpack the questions concerning jurisdiction, causality, retrospectivity, and attribution associated with harm for the impacts of climate change.
Keywords: human rights; climate change; litigation; loss and damage; liability
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