PH environmentalists mull case against global CO2 emitters

By Ronron Calunsod, Kyodo

Posted at May 20 2015 05:50 PM | Updated as of May 21 2015 01:51 AM

MANILA - The environmental group Greenpeace in the Philippines is taking advantage of a scientific study by a U.S.-based climate analyst that identified several foreign companies as among the top emitters of carbon dioxide since the mid-18th century.

Greenpeace Philippines invited last week Richard Heede of the Colorado-based Climate Accountability Institute to share his research findings on the historical emissions of carbon dioxide and methane with officers of the human rights commission, civil society groups, and individuals perceived to be suffering the impacts of climate change.

According to Heede's study, which was first published in November 2013 and updated a year later, global emissions of carbon dioxide from all anthropogenic industrial sources (fossil fuel combustion and cement) totaled 1,443 gigatons CO2 (GtCO2) from 1751 to 2013.

Of these, 939 GtCO2, or 65 percent, are traced to carbon fuels and cement produced by 90 "carbon major" entities, or oil and gas companies led by Chevron and Exxon Mobil of the United States, Saudi Aramco of Saudi Arabia, BP of Britain and Gazprom of Russia.

In Asia, China is identified as the largest emitter with at least 146 GtCO2, followed by Japan with at least 58.5 GtCO2.

The study noted that half of all industrial CO2 emissions since 1751 have actually been emitted between 1988 and 2014.

"The central aim of the institute's work is to shift accountability for climate change and damages to the extant national and multinational entities that have produced and marketed the lion's share of historic carbon fuels that drive climate change," the institute had said in a statement during the release of the study update in December 2014.

Anna Abad, Greenpeace Philippines' Climate Justice campaigner, said Heede's research is relevant to the country, and also to Pacific island states, "because despite our insignificant contribution to carbon dioxide emissions, we are bearing the brunt of extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change."

She noted that typhoons that have struck the Philippines since 2009, mostly notably super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, have left thousands of people dead, more than 14 million displaced, and billions of pesos worth of agriculture and infrastructure damaged.

A survey in 2013 also revealed that eight out of 10 Filipinos claim to have personally experienced the impacts of climate change, she added.

"What we're doing now is we're trying to mobilize other civil society groups, nongovernmental organizations, and community leaders to make sure that we have a strong voice in getting and holding the carbon majors into account," Abad said in a news conference with Heede.

"We're already implementing adaptation efforts in the Philippines, in the same way with the Pacific island states. But adaptation efforts are not enough. We need to also make sure that the carbon majors or the big polluters must address mitigation measures as well."

While there are still no definite plans to litigate against the identified companies, lawyer Zelda Soriano of Greenpeace Southeast Asia said, "We are seriously considering legal action."

"There is interest and there are ideas and suggestions that we should all come together for a liability claim. And maybe, that would first be on the basis of how the impacts of climate change traceable to these carbon majors have interfered the enjoyment of human rights of Filipinos," Soriano said in the same news conference, citing specially the rights to life, health, property, and a balanced and healthy environment as guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution.

Heede shared that while nothing has been filed yet outside of the Philippines, there are discussions on potential litigation against some of the identified companies, particularly those in Canada, the United States, and Germany.

Soriano said Heede's research findings should also prompt "bigger government actions and collective or community actions" to persuade the identified companies to keep fossil fuels or carbon reserves in the ground.

Heede revealed the major industrial producers have at least 933 GtCO2 of proven recoverable reserves, namely fossil fuels that are recoverable in the future under present and expected local economic conditions with existing and available technology.

"We will need fossil fuels, I expect, for decades. But that doesn't mean that they will be unfettered emissions. I think there are opportunities to reduce the net emissions of what they sell," Heede told Kyodo News.

"They can continue selling liquid fuels for many years, but they also make serious efforts to reduce the environmental consequences of selling those products by investing in renewable energy, by investing in biofuel that doesn't emit as much carbon, by capturing and sequestering carbon from other sources. What we want is lower concentration of carbon dioxide," he said.

Based on his study, however, "global emissions are increasing sharply," including even the share of the identified companies.

"But eventually, they will have to be party to solving the problem," as he notes that "shareholders are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the business that they financially support," with specific concern on meeting the global requirement of keeping carbon emissions below 2 degrees centigrade.

"I think, individually and collectively, they can make a difference by openly and transparently supporting progress on climate change in the international diplomacy, as well as taking serious actions on their own to reduce their net emissions over time," Heede said of the identified companies.

In the Philippines, Abad said that since it is unlikely for the government to totally stop importing fuel, "what we can ask is to make sure that we transition to renewable energy rather than perpetuate the destructive path that the industrialized West has taken."

She said the government has to keep pace with the private sector in the shift to renewable energy as "right now, you have homes and even malls that are slowly shifting into alternative sources of energy, such as solar panels."

"There is a lack of commitment in terms of pushing for renewable energy in the Philippines because we are approving more coal fired power plants in the Philippines as opposed to, or in comparison to renewable energy projects -- this despite the fact that we passed the Renewable Energy law in 2008," she said.

"We have all these laws -- the Renewable Energy law, the Climate Change Act -- all these progressive laws, but nothing seems to be coming out of it," she added.