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Small Island States Prepare Legal Action Against Fossil Fuel Producers

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The small island state of Vanuatu, along with community leaders from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, announced plans Monday to hold fossil fuel companies responsible for the impacts of climate change before the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.

“We commit to holding those most responsible for climate change accountable. By doing so, we send a message of hope that the people and not the polluters are in charge of humanity’s destiny,” states the People’s Declaration for Climate Justice.

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“We commit to bring a case that would investigate the human rights implications of climate change and hold the big carbon polluters accountable to appropriate international bodies or processes.”

Vanuatu was devastated [2] when Cyclone Pam stormed ashore March 13, bringing wind gusts of up to 300 kilometres per hour, destroying 90% the capital city, Port Vila, and wiping out crops through much of the 65-island nation.

Legal advisor Zelda Soriano said the UN Human Rights Council had provided limited legal precedent for a claim against fossil fuel majors by recognizing that climate change has an impact on the rights of some communities.

But the case will still have to connect specific companies to specific climate impacts. “The challenge is how you say one particular company is responsible for emissions that affect everybody,” attorney Martijn Wilder of Baker & McKenzie told RTCC. “There’s a causation challenge. Having said that, people have taken on tobacco companies saying you sold cigarettes and said it wasn’t harmful, and as a result of that have been sued.”