The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has just determined that 47 major companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Total, could be found legally and morally liable for human rights harms to Filipinos resulting from climate change. The commission found the companies could be held accountable under civil and criminal laws. Climate activists have hailed the decision as a landmark victory for climate justice. According to Greenpeace, this marks the first time big polluting companies have been found responsible for human rights harms resulting from the climate crisis. We speak to Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the former chief climate negotiator for the Philippines.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Madrid, Spain. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has just determined that 47 major companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Total, could be found legally and morally liable for human rights harms to Filipinos resulting from climate change. The commission found the companies could be held accountable under civil and criminal laws. Climate activists have hailed the decision as a landmark victory for climate justice. According to Greenpeace, this marks the first time big polluting companies have been found responsible for human rights harms resulting from the climate crisis.
We’re joined now by Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. He was the chief climate negotiator for the Philippines in 2013, when Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest cyclones in recorded history, devastated the Philippines, killing thousands of people. The devastation coincided with the 2013 U.N. climate summit in Warsaw, where Saño made headlines with an emotional plea for action on climate change. The following year, as yet another deadly storm battered the Philippines, Saño was unexpectedly absent from the U.N. climate summit in Lima, Peru. He had been pulled from the delegation at the last minute, leading to speculation he had been targeted for his outspokenness amidst pressure from wealthier countries like the United States. Since then, Yeb Saño has returned to the U.N. climate summit every year as an activist. And he’s here in Madrid.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you here with us. So, just as we went to air, we learned of this news. Talk about the significance of the Human Rights Commission in the Philippines’ decision.
YEB SAÑO: Yes, this is truly an exciting time for all of us, especially those who are personally involved in this legal action. In 2015, we filed this petition with the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, together with 18 individuals at the forefront of climate impacts and 14 civil society organizations. Now we see the results of this long journey and with the Commission on Human Rights making a statement here in Madrid, saying that the carbon majors, fossil fuel companies, who have contributed significantly to climate change, and therefore are threatening the human rights — are threatening the human rights of Filipinos. It is such a momentous occasion for us. This is very historic for us.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were a complainant.
YEB SAÑO: I am one of the complainants in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the damage that the climate crisis has done to the Philippines. In the Philippines just last week, another massive typhoon.
YEB SAÑO: Yes. Last week, as the COP was opening, Typhoon Kammuri had left a massive wake of devastation in the Philippines, you know, 80,000 homes damaged, and 10,000 of those totally destroyed, and at least $90 billion worth of damage in agriculture. And, you know, this is happening every year. So, it’s really hard to follow now how much the damage is, and not even talking about cultural damage, all of those broken families, you know, young people having to become breadwinners. This is just horrible. And it’s happening over and over again, and it’s getting worse.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this decision, just to be clear, we didn’t say the word the Philippines U.N. — the Philippines Human Rights Commission found the carbon majors “guilty.” But explain legally what this means and why this could be precedent-setting.
YEB SAÑO: Yes, this is really groundbreaking. But what people need to understand is this has been filed — this case has been filed in the Commission on Human Rights. It’s not a regular court. So, the rules of evidence there is a bit different. And the Commission on Human Rights has a mandate to investigate, recommend and monitor whether people’s human rights are being violated. And our aim in launching this case with the commission is to implore with the commission to find these carbon majors, all of these fossil fuel companies, responsible for the harms that they have caused, especially our enjoyment of our basic human rights. And this decision points to that. This decision points to a finding that they can be held legally and morally liable. But what the commission is saying is that legal courts of law will need to come in, and cases need to be filed, as well, against these companies so that they can be found guilty.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Yeb, you have had such an impact on these climate summits, going back to 2013 at the summit in Warsaw, Poland. Typhoon Haiyan had just hit the Philippines, killing thousands. At the time, you were the Philippines’ chief negotiator, addressing the gathering in what became one of the most high-profile protests against government inaction on climate change.
YEB SAÑO: What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. Mr. President, we can stop this madness right here in Warsaw.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Yeb Saño, talk about what has happened since. You went from inside the climate summit to outside. But talk about the significance of COP25; that’s the conference of parties, for the last 25 years. Why does this one matter in Madrid? But it’s run by Chile, no less.
YEB SAÑO: Yes. So, COP25 comes four years after Paris. And Paris has been described as a milestone in this process. And what we now have is the Paris Agreement, which has basically enshrined the commitments that the whole world would want to pursue in order to prevent a situation where warming would go beyond 2 degrees, and would pursue efforts — and countries would pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And that’s the centerpiece of the Paris Agreement. What COP25 means to this process is that it is a checkpoint, an important checkpoint on whether countries are amply delivering on those Paris pledges. And 2020 is the deadline for countries to ramp — there’s this five-year period where we’re going to have to check and review whether countries have put in, on the table, sufficient emissions reductions commitments. And “ambition” is a keyword here. COP25, we need to see that. And what we have right now, instead, are pledges that would be good towards a 3 degrees warmer world. That is not enough.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain the significance of loss and damage. We only have seconds.
YEB SAÑO: Yes. Loss and damage is a conversation that’s happening because countries can no longer adapt to climate change. So, if you cannot adapt, then you incur losses and damages. The debate here in Madrid is that — whether rich countries are willing to finance and support countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, which are already incurring losses and damages. And, you know, developed countries continue to be reluctant to do that. They reject the idea that they need to pay for all of these damages.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of President Trump, just a little while before this summit, announcing that we’re going through the final process, the United States, of withdrawing from this U.N. climate summit, the only country in the world? Why does that matter?
YEB SAÑO: It depends on how you really look at it. Personally, personally, I think we should stop caring about whether the U.S. is still in or out. Change will happen with or without the U.S. And renewable energy future will happen with or without the U.S. But, you know, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is just a signal that he is declaring a view that is opposed to the view of a majority of Americans. And this process will continue. But then, on the other hand, you know, the U.S. is still the biggest polluter, including historical emissions, and that’s a bad sign for the market, for business, for many people, and so for the international process. But I would rather believe — I would rather choose to believe that that’s not important anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: Yeb Saño, we’re going to do Part 2 of this discussion, post it online. Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, previously the chief climate negotiator for the Philippines.
And that does it for our show. Oh, by the way, check out Democracy Now!‘s full-page ad in The New York Times challenging our colleagues in the media to do far better when they cover the climate crisis. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, from Madrid, Spain.