Press Release | 03 June 2016

The Case of Huaraz: RWE denies responsibility for climate damages in the Andes – court hearing this autumn

The Peruvian mountain guide Saúl Luciano Lliuya is demanding that the Essen Regional Court in Germany order the energy firm to pay for safety measures to protect his home town. Climate change has caused a glacial lake to fill up to the brim, threatening to flood the city of Huaraz.

Essen/Bonn (3rd June 2016). Representing RWE, the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has filed its first response to a civil suit filed by the Peruvian small-scale farmer and mountain guide Saúl Luciano Lliuya. The german firm denies responsibility for climate change impacts in the Peruvian Andes. In the written statement, the lawyers claim that RWE has no liability under German civil law. The claimant Saúl Luciano Lliuya expected such a reaction and is determined to pursue his case at the Essen Regional Court (Germany) in a hearing this autumn with his Hamburg lawyer Dr. Roda Verheyen: “RWE needs to take responsibility for its emissions. We in Peru have hardly made any contribution to climate change, but we live with the worst consequences.”

Filed last December, the lawsuit is the first of its kind in Europe. “This is a precedent. If the case goes through, it could lead to further lawsuits being brought against climate change contributors worldwide,” according to lawyer Roda Verheyen. “To meet legal standards, we must prove to the court that RWE does carry partial responsibility for the risk my client’s property is exposed to – and we will achieve this.”

Looking back: six months ago Saúl Luciano Lliuya filed the civil suit against the energy firm RWE. The company publicly admits to being the single largest C02-emitter in Europe. According to a 2014 study, RWE is responsible for about half of one percent of global historical anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions since industrialization. Even if RWE is only one contributor among many, Luciano Lliuya demands that the firm cover part of the costs for security measures against a possible flood wave that endangers his home town of Huaraz, including his family and property. Climate change has led to rapid glacial melting, causing the Palcacocha lake to fill up with water. This presents an urgent threat for the city of 120,000 people.

RWE not only denies its liability in the statement it filed with the court, but also questions the lawsuit’s legal admissibility. Following on an indication the court made to this end, the claimant plans to amend the lawsuit to fulfill all legal requirements. He and his lawyer are convinced that this precedent-setting climate responsibility lawsuit will not be rejected on grounds of inadmissibility. RWE’s lawyers also try to argue that individual emissions cannot be tied to glacial melting in the Andes, despite extensive insights from the global climate expert panel IPCC. They even question whether climate change causes glacial loss in the Peruvian Andes. On the basis of falsely represented data and against the IPCC’s evidence they claim that local temperatures have even decreased, meaning there would be no warming that could be tied to increased glacial melting.

According to an assessment by the environmental and development organization Germanwatch, RWE makes the scandalous claim that flooding no longer poses a risk for the Andean city of Huaraz. But for years, international scientists and Peruvian authorities have warned that glacial ice could fall into the lake and cause a massive flood wave. Even emergency safety measures by the local authorities did not significantly reduce the risk.

Luciano Lliuya and his lawyer are now elaborating a detailed legal response. There will be a hearing at the Essen Regional Court in late autumn of this year. The precise date is yet to be set. “The biggest contributors to climate change must finally take responsibility”, demands Luciano Lliuya. “This is about our safety and about justice.”

Germanwatch supports and advises Luciano Lliuya on his case. The foundation Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit has called for donations to support this precedent-setting lawsuit.