A Peruvian farmer is suing German energy giant RWE for causing climate change

Peruvian Saul Luciano Lliuya and his lawyer Roda Verheyen in Hamm, Germany.
Peruvian Saul Luciano Lliuya and his lawyer Roda Verheyen in Hamm, Germany.
Image: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay
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Saul Luciano Lliuya is a farmer and mountain guide in the Peruvian Andes, and he’s worried that a glacier lake is at risk of melting and overflowing, causing damage to his home town of Huaraz. He’s already spent more than €6,000 ($7,054) on measures to protect the town, but now he needs another €17,000 to build more flood defenses.

Luciano believes Germany’s second-biggest energy company RWE company should pay for what he has spent already and the impending costs resulting from its contribution to climate change—and a court in the town of Hamm in Germany has agreed to hear his case.

He is pointing the finger at RWE for several reasons. The case says that according to a 2013 climate study, RWE is responsible for 0.5% of all global emissions “since the beginning of industrialization”—and by extension, is therefore partly responsible for the environmental threat to Luciano’s Andean home.

He also says that RWE is one of the world’s top producers of carbon dioxide; RWE’s representatives are arguing that one company alone can’t be held responsible for global warming.

Klaus Milke from Germanwatch, who consulted Luciano, hailed the court’s decision to accept the case as “legal history.” He told AFP: “It’s good news for the many potential plaintiffs worldwide who will be emboldened to take action themselves.”

It is also the first time a German court has acknowledged a link between carbon emissions and global warming, and could set a precedent for such cases in the future by people whose homes or livelihoods are under threat from climate change.

Luciano and RWE have until Nov. 30 to present further arguments to the court, which will then decide whether or not to proceed with the case, but the court said it was “likely” to move on to hearing evidence.