Climate change is the new battleground for human rights

'People and the planet should not be treated as collateral damage in the name of economic growth and profit'

How do we connect the miseries of the small and marginalized people in the climate vulnerable countries to huge profits of big companies in affluent countries?

As governments battle it out in Paris in the hopes of reaching an agreement to save the world from the adverse impacts of climate change, poor people in small islands in the Pacific and developing countries such as the Philippines are already suffering the effects of the climate crisis, a problem that they did not create. (READ: Indigenous peoples to world leaders: We carry the burden of climate change)

Powerful typhoons are battering countries on a scale never before seen in history. Ocean levels are rising and threatening residents and livelihood in coastal communities.

This is definitely not the natural cycle of things, and Mother Nature is now getting back at us for all the environmental abuse humans have created. The historic and cumulative carbon emissions from coal, oil, and gas production by states and big corporations caused global warming and climate change.

If they continue with their business as usual and future investment plans for further carbon production despite knowing its harmful effects on the climate and environment, then they are essentially violating our human rights.

HUMAN RIGHTS. Climate advocates see the effects of climate change as violations of human rights. Image courtesy of Nico Villarete

Violation of human rights

It’s time to take up the cudgels for the people whose voices cannot be heard in climate negotiations and international bodies. (READ: Putting human rights at the center of the climate conversation)

World leaders must stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves. And we, as citizens of this planet, must demand justice for the lives lost, for those who were displaced, and for those who are perennially in danger because of conflicts caused by the changing climate.

We must break away from the global economic system that encourages capitalists to trample on the rights of the poor and the vulnerable.

People and the planet should not be treated as collateral damage in the name of economic growth and profit. We have the moral imperative to act – to demand accountability from those historically responsible for climate change.

Climate change goes beyond borders. The emissions from another part of the world endanger the lives and livelihood of those living in climate risk countries. Climate change shows how interconnected we all are living on one planet. And we, as one race and one voice, must solve this problem for our common home.

It is for these reasons that the victims of climate change, together with advocates and non-governmental organizations, have taken their plight to the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights to investigate and look into the responsibility of big fossil fuel companies in contributing to catastrophic climate change.

We are demanding justice for human rights violations or threats of violations resulting from the impacts of climate change. This step is an important building block in establishing the moral and legal ‘precedent’ that big polluters can be held responsible for current and potential threats to human rights resulting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

EMISSIONS. Many believe big firms that put profit over planet are to blame for the carbon emissions causing climate change. Photo by Philippe Huguen/AFP

Demanding accountability

These companies have benefited financially despite their knowledge of the harm associated with their products.

We, the petitioners of the complaint, all agree that now is the time for the big polluters to stop causing further harm to the climate. We believe that this complaint is just and timely, especially as countries hammer out a deal for meaningful climate action in Paris. (READ: Human rights in danger of being sidelined in Paris climate deal)

The Commission on Human Rights’ announcement to open an investigation into the big polluters on December 4 heralds good tidings for our children, in the name of intergenerational responsibility.

Whatever happens in Paris, world leaders and big polluters should now know that we will no longer wait for them to agree to protect the planet for our future, because we are rising up and taking matters in our own hands.

Laudato Si

On International Human Rights Day, let us be reminded by the message of Pope Francis, a climate advocate: “Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”

His Laudato Si has spoken for Mother Earth, our common home, and called climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Climate change is one issue where science and the church are speaking in a unified voice – big polluters must curb their greed in order for all creation to survive and thrive.

In a message delivered at COP21, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that “we cannot remain blind to the grave damage done to the planet, nor can we remain indifferent to the plight of the millions of people who most bear the burden of destruction.”

Every country and every leader has a stake in this conference, and every leader is answerable to his or her people, and to the future generations to come.

We continue the struggle. We continue the fight in the name of the people who, on a daily basis, are victimized by the greed of the few. We continue to hope for a better future for our children, and for the generations to come.

We stand with all victims, advocates, and citizens of vulnerable countries to call for a socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually rich world that Pope Francis and the whole climate justice movement are fighting for. –

Fr. Edwin Gariguez is the executive director of the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action Justice and Peace and a recipient of the Goldman Environmental award in 2012.

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