As thousands gather today in Tacloban to commemorate the anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda’s (Haiyan) devastating landfall three years ago, fossil fuel companies - a.k.a. the Big Polluters - are being investigated in the Philippines for allegations of human rights abuses resulting from climate change.
“Three years have passed since Yolanda, and while the country is still trying to overcome challenges in rebuilding lives for communities impacted by previous devastations, super-typhoons continue to hit us every year.
It has become the new normal. We cannot just continue asking for assistance and relying on our people’s ‘resilience’, we instead need commitment from those most responsible that they will not cause further harm to the climate and people. We owe it to the communities on the frontlines of climate change around the world and to future generations,” said Yeb Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
The Big Polluters are companies who account for the lion’s share of fossil fuel products that have been manufactured, marketed, and sold since the industrial revolution and have contributed to record levels of carbon emissions globally, yet vulnerable countries like the Philippines are the most affected by climate impacts.
Earlier this year the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines ordered the Big Polluters to respond to a petition from Typhoon Yolanda survivors and supporting organisations, including Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines, about their role in potential human rights abuses due to climate change. For the first time, a national human rights body is officially taking steps to address the impacts of climate change and investigating the role played by companies headquartered outside the country.
Several days of activities to mark the anniversary of Yolanda will culminate in a candle-lighting ceremony that survivors, their families and their friends hope sparks not just memories of devastation, but messages of remembrance, hope and solidarity toward the global protection of frontline affected communities and a better future for the next generation.
“We are very thankful for the help and the sympathy we received from all over the world. We also appreciate being seen as a resilient people, but no one deserves to experience what we experienced during Typhoon Yolanda. No one. Fundamental change is needed to give us a chance of avoiding future Yolandas. But, how (do we ensure that)?” asked Jeff Manibay of One Tacloban, which is among the groups spearheading the commemorations in Leyte.
Taclobanons have used the annual event to send a message of gratitude to all those who helped in the immediate aftermath of Yolanda and the subsequent rehabilitation. But, as the people of Leyte remember their dead and continue to grapple with the challenges of rebuilding their lives three years on, the people of Northern Luzon Region are struggling to recover from the devastation of back-to-back typhoons, Sarika (Karen) and Haima (Lawin), which hit at the end of October. The devastation to agriculture and fisheries from Haima and Sarika, is already estimated at Php20.2 billion (US$416 million).
The north’s famed, centuries-old Ifugao Rice Terraces, which employs ingenious indigenous farming technology, is also collapsing from continued exposure to ever worsening droughts, including from El Niño, and stronger typhoons, including Haima. This shows that climate impacts affect not just the economy and everyday life, but also devastate a culture’s heritage and will change ways of life forever.
“Extreme weather events are exacerbating other development issues. Regardless of preparations that local governments try to make, increasingly extreme weather events make resources for surviving almost impossible for communities on the frontlines of climate change,” Saño added.
“The fossil fuel companies and respective governments should not waste time to take bold steps in reducing emissions. LiIves, livelihoods and ways of life are at stake. You cannot continue with business-as-usual. This has become a matter of justice and human rights,” Saño said.
The CHR petition is among a global wave of climate justice-related cases being brought against governments and fossil fuel companies. People have filed actions in countries including Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the Philippines.