A fisherman paddles his banca amidst ruins of house stilts destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan on a coastal village in Tacloban city in central Philippines November 2, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

“Will this be our fate – just to count the victims of climate change or be counted among them?”

Those words open a petition filed with the Philippine Commission on Human Rights after one of the most powerful typhoons on record – Super Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda – devastated the Philippine archipelago in 2013.

The petition, drafted and signed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and other groups, requests that the commission conduct an “investigation of the responsibility of the carbon majors” – the largest companies producing crude oil, natural gas, coal, and cement, who are also the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters – “for human rights violations resulting from the impacts of climate change.” The inquiry will result in findings and recommendations.

The commission held its first hearing on this petition in March and its second hearing will be held on May 23 and 24. Human Rights Watch presented this week and explained the responsibility of corporations when it comes to respecting human rights. Our testimony underlined the potential of a right to a healthy environment to address the grave inequities suffered by people and communities exposed to environmental degradation and to bring these people relief and justice.

Recent scientific research has quantified and traced the carbon majors’ cumulative share of carbon dioxide and methane emissions since the industrial revolution. Given the causal connection between the accumulation of such greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and climate change, this body of scientific evidence is key to the commission’s examination of the responsibility of carbon majors for climate change impacts in the Philippines, one of the countries most affected by climate change.

The petition has great significance for millions of people who are, and will be, impacted by climate change. It could also have great significance for humanity’s sense of justice and responsibility towards the totality of life on the planet.