Climate litigation against Holcim: “Don’t let us drown”

Since 2015, more than 2000 climate change-related litigation cases have been filed worldwide. The complaint filed by four Indonesian fishermen and women against the Swiss cement corporation Holcim is only the second of its kind from the Global South against a “Carbon Major.” What are the reasons why these four residents of the small island Pari decided to take this step? What does this mean for them? And what is the significance of this complaint for other people in the Global South? 

Asmania, Arif, Bobby and Edi are already suffering at present from the effects of global warming. Several times a year, parts of their island and often their houses are overrun by flooding. And this is likely to intensify in the coming years due to rising sea levels. Their home is existentially imperiled, while their human rights are increasingly under threat. Climate change is depriving them of their livelihoods and endangering their health and well-being; it is destroying their vegetable gardens and contaminating their fresh water sources with saltwater. On top of this, the fish population surrounding the island is dwindling, the coral reefs are increasingly subject to bleaching and, due to the floods, income from tourism continues to decline. 

The effects of climate change are impacting Asmania, Bobby, Arif and Edi heavily. Yet, the four Indonesian fishermen and women, along with everyone else on the island, have hardly contributed to climate change. The four complainants are well aware that they are not alone with their plight, as approximately one billion people who live in low-lying coastal areas and on flat islands find themselves in a similar situation: if CO2 emissions remain high, their homes are at risk of being permanently submerged in the next century. Edi, one of the complainants, poses the central question: “Where will we live if our island disappears?” 

Main carbon polluters in the North

With their complaint against Holcim, they are bringing it to the public’s attention that climate-related damages and losses are a real and existential problem. The consequences of climate change are causing human rights violations, and prospects for the future are frightening. Asmania remarks, “I don’t want to think about what my children will do if the flooding continues to increase. I only wish that they can continue to live on Pari, our home.” 

The four complainants know that the main culprits of the climate crisis are primarily located in the Global North. Industrialized countries, as well as companies with comparably high CO2 emissions, have made measurable contributions to global warming. Holcim alone is responsible for 0.42% of all industrial CO2 emissions since 1750. That is more than double the amount emitted by Switzerland during the same span of time. 

Absolute emission reductions demanded

The complainants are also aware that Carbon Majors like Holcim carry a substantial historical responsibility for their losses and damages on the island, as well as their worries about the future. And these Carbon Majors are also often in possession of the financial resources needed to push forward the necessary global transformation. For these same reasons, the Peruvian Andean farmer and mountain guide Saúl Luciano Lliuya sued German energy company RWE, which, through its excessive corporate-wide CO2 emissions, contributed to the looming danger of flooding from the melting glacier above his home. 

In order to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, rapid emissions reductions are needed. Thus, the four Indonesians are demanding from Holcim: proportional compensation for their damages, absolute emissions reductions of 43% by 2030 and 69% by 2040 in comparison to 2019, as well as a contribution to the flood protection measures they require. They are demanding this at the Cantonal Court in Zug, where Holcim’s headquarters are located. But their call for climate justice is louder. This is the only and, perhaps, the last chance for them to be heard globally. And by doing so, they are standing up for all of those who are already suffering from climate-related damages and losses, as well as those who fear for their future because of climate change. “Don’t let us drown” is the call for help from Asmania, Arif, Bobby and Edi.