August 16, 2022

High-profile climate change lawsuit moves forward as German judges arrive in Peru

High-profile climate change lawsuit moves forward as German judges arrive in Peru

A lake surrounded by glaciers

Palcacocha Lake in 2014. Siphons were installed in the glacial lake to lower the water level. Photo: Cooperación Suiza COSUDE/via Flickr CC

The historic fight of climate change, Luciano Livia v. RWE AG, is increasing again. Native Peruvian farmer Saul Luciano Livia is suing German energy company RWE AG over the costs of preventing the flooding of Palcacocha’s glacial lake from flooding his hometown of Huaraz. After delays caused by Covid-19, the case is moving forward again as German officials – including judges and court-appointed experts – arrived in Peru on May 25 to assess the level of danger posed by Lake Palcacocha.

This lake, which is located at an altitude of 4650 meters above the regional capital of Huaraz, is increasing due to the input of melting water from natural glaciers. This lake is a major threat to the city below, as an increase in volume can cause the lake to overflow and flood.

RWE, a German multinational energy company, was the 297th largest state-owned company in the world in 2020. Carbon Majors database, RWE has caused 0.47% of global carbon emissions since the industrial revolution, so Lliuya is suing for that proportion of flood prevention costs. In an interview with Noah Walker Crawford, a consultant on the case, he explains that if Livia gets the money, it will be allocated to flood safety infrastructure on the lake, according to an agreement with the regional government of Ankash (which is responsible for safety). (works in Lake Palcacocha).

Receiving this agreement sets a groundbreaking precedent that a company can be held accountable for its contribution to global climate change. If Lliuya is awarded damages totaling 17,000 euros ($18,239), it would be a minimal cost to the giant company, but it would lay the groundwork for much larger actions against other heavy polluters.

A man talking into a microphone

Saúl Luciano Lliuya speaking in Essen, Germany in 2016. Photo: Alexander Luna/via Wikimedia Commons

With the help German watch, a German climate justice organization, the case was filed on November 24, 2015 at the Regional Court of Essen, Germany. Although the case was initially dismissed in December 2016, an appeal in 2017 allowed it to proceed to the discovery and evidence-gathering phase. . As noted in GlacierHub’s previous coverage of the case, there were delays due to COVID-19, but the case moved forward as court experts arrived in Peru. Lliuya argues that RWE violated his rights by being partly responsible for creating the threat that prevented him from using his land. Lliuya needs to prove that the glacial recession can be attributed to climate change and that it is a real threat for RWE to accept responsibility.

Reviewed Report Published in Nature Geoscience, it claims that greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated the retreat of the Palcaraju glacier above the lake, putting the city at risk of devastating floods. Independent Report It goes even further, stating that glacial retreat is “entirely attributable” to global warming. This statement supports Lliuya’s claim that the risk of flooding is due to climate change and therefore RWE should be partly responsible.

German court-appointed experts are currently assessing whether there is a risk of flooding “Real and imminent danger” to the property of Lliuya. Livia’s lawyer, Rhoda Verheen, explains that although attribution to climate change is one of the central questions of the evidentiary phase, court-appointed experts are actually present to examine the issue. Personal risk To Lliuya’s house on the flood path. Verheen explains that “no one who was there could really question the fact that there was a danger” and that the question was whether the danger was legally imminent. enough.

The threat to this city has been known for years. In 1941, a flood from the same lake killed 1,800 people and destroyed a large part of the city. Today, Huaraz is much larger, and 50,000 people live in the path of the flood. In addition, the volume of the lake is 34 times more than in 1970. Flood prevention measures are already in place. In 2011, siphons were installed to lower the water level. There is constant video surveillance and a team of people called “refrigerator guards” are stationed near the building. Lake. In addition, the town has implemented warning sirens in case of this problem Flooding. This allows residents to evacuate their homes about half an hour before the flood arrives. However, this warning system is not enough to protect residents from flooding, as video surveillance often does the issues.

Palkakucha Lake

Palcacocha Lake in the Cordillera Blanca Mountains. Credit: Cooperación Suiza COSUDE/ via Flickr CC

In an interview with GlacierHub, Rupert Stuart Smith, a researcher with the Oxford Sustainable Law Program who contributed to the Nature Geoscience report, explained how the swollen lake volume not only increases the risk of glacial lake flooding, but also how glacier retreat may be the most likely “scenario increase the “stimulus” that can cause the lake to overflow and subsequent floods. Stuart Smith claims that there is “abundant scientific evidence” for these trigger scenarios. These scenarios include avalanches or landslides entering the lake and creating waves that cause water to flow over its borders and erode them. As the glacier moves down the mountain, it destabilizes the soil as the permafrost melts, he explained. Unstable soil increases the possibility of avalanches or landslides and thus the risk of flooding.

The case was originally brought to obtain a declaratory judgment, monetary damages and an injunction to stop RWE’s emissions. The court rejected Livia’s claim for declaratory judgment, meaning when the court made a detailed opinion about the “The nature of a legal matter, along with his demands for monetary compensation and court order. The court denied monetary compensation Damage, because giving money does not solve Livia’s problem. Court order to stop, also called Mandatory reliefwas rejected because RWE’s emissions freeze order cannot currently stop the effects of climate change from continuing to create ice. retreat.

Despite the verdicts against Livia, the main argument in her case is moving forward, providing both a new opportunity for climate change litigation and good news for environmental groups and indigenous communities who have persisted in their fight against fossil fuel companies. Walker-Crawford explains that the case has already set an exciting precedent that companies may be held accountable for their contributions to climate change, just because the appeals court accepted the case. If successful, the case opens the door to more climate change lawsuits. Fossil fuel companies need to start “pricing” the costs of these suits, which are potentially much more expensive than the $18,239 in question here.

Finally, fossil fuel companies may be forced to set aside millions of dollars in potential litigation-related costs, which would encourage corporate investment. Additionally, if climate change litigation becomes more successful, it could spur political action, which is ultimately the goal of these cases. Walker-Crawford describes climate change litigation as an “act of desperation” in the absence of government action. However, if Lliuya succeeds in his lawsuit, we may suddenly see these cases become a pathway to climate change action and a much-needed victory for our planet.


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