The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade treaties have become notorious because they establish a separate and superior legal system for corporations; allowing them to sue governments for damages when democratic decisions result in a loss of profits. If signed, to give just one example of this, the TTIP treaty would hamper European attempts to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of global energy corporations.
It is against this backdrop that we should welcome the action by Greenpeace and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement on behalf of typhoon survivors, to hold Chevron, ExxonMobil and BP liable for the damage their activities have done to the global environment:
“The real-life pain and agony of losing loved ones, homes, farms – almost everything – during strong typhoons, droughts, and other weather extremes, as well as the everyday struggle to live, to be safe, and to be able to cope with the adverse, slow onset impacts of climate change, are beyond numbers and words.”
The hearing by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines will allow evidence to be heard, and some action may be possible against those energy corporations that operate in the Philippines. However, it raises serious legal issues about how we hold corporations operating in one part of the world accountable for damage that is experienced elsewhere. Beyond this, there is a thorny question about assessing damages, since while we are getting closer to being able to attribute particular events – like the Philippines’ typhoon – to climate change; it is still beyond us to calculate what proportion of that climate change was caused by a particular corporation. Nevertheless, winning the principle that corporations should be liable for the damage they cause would be a major step forward.