The highest point of the Indonesian island Pari stands at 1.5 meters above sea level – for now. Climate change has been causing the water to rise steadily for years, endangering the livelihoods of the island residents, who are struggling more frequently with increasingly severe flooding. By 2050 at the latest, most of the island will be under water. But the people on Pari do not want to simply accept the demise of their homeland: they are taking legal action in Switzerland against one of the world’s largest emitters of climate-damaging greenhouse gases, the cement company Holcim.
Four residents of Pari island, with the support of ECCHR, the Swiss organization HEKS/EPER and the Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI – Friends of the Earth Indonesia), appealed to the Swiss judiciary in July 2022. They are demanding that Holcim significantly reduce its CO₂ emissions as rapidly as possible. Their appeal is also noteworthy as they are urging the company to pay compensation for loss and damages already incurred, as well as to finance urgently needed flood protection measures.
Holcim is the largest manufacturer of building materials in the world. The company currently operates 269 cement and grinding plants in various countries and is the global market leader for cement. The company’s business operations have contributed significantly to climate change: HEKS/EPER commissioned a study, according to which Holcim produced over seven billion tons of cement from 1950 to 2021 and caused almost the exact same amount of CO₂ emissions during this same period. This amounts to 0.42 percent of all global industrial emissions in human history.
Holcim has been aware of the high emissions of cement production and their impacts on the climate for at least 30 years. In spite of this, during this time, the company more than doubled its emissions, whose damaging effects are being felt by the people on Pari. The company must be held accountable for this, which is why the four Pari residents are submitting a conciliation request to the so-called Judges of the Peace (Friedensrichter) in Zug, where Holcim’s main headquarters are located. If the conciliation process does not succeed, a civil lawsuit against the company will follow.
The inhabitants of Pari have contributed the least to climate change. They have traditionally worked as fishermen and -women, have been active in the protection of corals and mangroves and practice ecological tourism on the island. Nonetheless, they are the ones who have to adapt to the effects of climate change. Pari has always been affected by flooding, but in recent years, this has increased dramatically, both in frequency and strength. The consequences: wells contaminated by salt water, dead trees, flooded beaches and houses – all of which has led to fewer tourists, an important source of income for the island residents.
Climate-related damages and losses, caused by flooding, heat waves, storms and droughts, are already happening in many places throughout the world. But those most responsible – the industrialized countries and global corporations – continue to delay political solutions year after year, while these dangerous developments, particularly in the Global South, have become existentially threatening.