February 8, 2023

Juan Kabayan

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PH group to file class suit vs top US polluters

A PHILIPPINE-BASED environmental watchdog has sent a formal notice to the United States government, through its embassy in Manila, of its intention to file a class suit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against top industrial polluters in America together with other industrial states worldwide for the deadly effects of their carbon emissions.

“We would like to put your country, the United States of America (and other co-defendant countries) an official notice that in six months from this date of notification, our multi-sectoral organization will jointly file a one-trillion dollar ‘loss and damage’ class suit against all of you at the ICJ if you fail to address our legitimate grievances on climate change and human rights that have gravely injured and severely affected our climate-change vulnerable country and its suffering people,” said the Clean Air Philippines Movement Inc. (Capmi), headed by its president Dr. Leo Olarte.

Dr. Leo Olarte

Dr. Leo Olarte

Its letter of intent was sent to US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson and received by the US Embassy in Manila on December 29.

Olarte said the purpose of the letter was to provide the US government a formal notice that Capmi, together with other private sector organizations in the Philippines, will file the class suit “due to all the deadly greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change that is now a worldwide crisis.”

The various private sector organizations that have joined Capmi in its intention to file the case include the World Youth for Climate Justice, the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters, Luntiang Pangarap (Green Dream) Movement, Kapisanan and Social Media Broadcasters ng Pilipinas Inc., and Mata sa Balota Movement.

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Olarte said they have joined other climate change vulnerable Pacific countries headed by the Republic of Vanuatu in seeking an advisory opinion from the ICJ through a United Nations General Assembly resolution “to clarify the obligations of states to protect the rights of the current and future generations from the adverse effects of climate change.”

“By giving an advisory opinion, the Court can provide the impetus for more ambitious action under the Paris Agreement, provide authoritative baselines for state action on mitigation and international cooperation and assistance, integrate areas of international law that are currently separate, human rights and environmental law, provide impetus and guidance for domestic, regional and international adjudications, and cement consensus on the scientific evidence of climate change,” the former Philippine Medical Association president said in the letter.

Olarte, who is also a lawyer, said this initiative has already received support at the UN, particularly from the UN High Commission for Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd.

“Our Philippine groups are working towards securing global state and non-state support for the ICJ advisory opinion,” he said.

Olarte pointed out that demand for an authoritative guidance from the ICJ on the issue of climate justice was initiated by the youth sector from the different Pacific Islands, the most affected region by climate change.

He said this move has also received the backing of 139 civil society organizations and over 100 countries.

Olarte said the UN General Assembly will vote on the ICJ Climate Resolution for the Advisory Opinion this month.

“The link between the climate crisis and human rights is now well established,” he said in the letter of intent. “Climate impacts have been shown to exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and human rights challenges such as poverty, well-being, wealth inequality, gender relations and many others.”

The Philippines, he added, is generally not a carbon polluting country mainly because its share of fossil carbon dioxide emissions, or carbon footprint, is only.35 percent as compared to highly industrialized nations.

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, that are generated by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product. The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world.

Capmi also sent the same letter of intent to the governments of Japan, Germany, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, China and Indonesia through their respective embassies in Manila.