Higher Regional Court Hamm: Large emitters can be held legally responsible for climate change impacts
The 5th civil chamber of the Higher District Court Hamm (Germany) wrote legal history today. It gave a clear statement that large emitters like RWE are liable for supporting people in poorer countries affected by climate change. The climate-suit of Saul Luciano Lliuya will therefore enter into the next phase. On 30th November, the court is expected to formally announce its decision to enter into the evidentiary phase. At that point, it will be necessary to provide sufficient evidence in this specific case to prove that RWE must provide a financial contribution as Luciano Lliuya has demanded. The court's argument is of great significance for many people who suffer from climate change impacts.
Hamm (November 13th 2017). The “climate lawsuit” presented by the mountain guide and small-scale farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya against RWE will continue. The Higher District Court Hamm (Germany) made it clear after a three-hour hearing that it would like to enter into the next stage and proceed to the evidentiary phase. This is a major step forward for Luciano Lliuya and his lawyer Dr. Roda Verheyen (Hamburg). “The 5th civil chamber made legal history today. Its statement is clear”, said Verheyen after the hearing. “For the first time, a court has said that an emitter, as a contributor to climate change, must claim responsibility for the hazards associated with global warming. Now we have to prove that RWE is partially responsible for climate hazards in Huaraz. We have a long way to go, but we are very confident that we will prove a causal link."
This is an emotional milestone for the claimant who travelled to Germany from Peru for the hearing. “For two and a half years we have fought for our rights and for protection against the hazards in Huaraz. Now it is becoming clear that large companies have to take responsibility for their actions.” says Luciano Lliuya. “We can finally show that RWE is partially responsible for the flood risk caused by glacial retreat in the Andes. This is a great day for myself and my family as well as all the people in Huaraz and the whole world who suffer from the impacts of climate change.”
This case sets a precedent as many other countries have similar legal provisions. Saúl Luciano Lliuya seeks a contribution towards the costs for protective measures at the glacial lake overlooking the Andean city of Huaraz from RWE in proportion to its contribution to climate change. A large portion of Huaraz's population of over 100,000, including Luciano Lliuya's family and his house, face an acute threat of flooding due to accelerated glacial retreat caused by climate change. According to a recent study, a glacial lake outburst flood caused a block of ice falling into the lake could affect up to 50,000 people. RWE and their legal representatives at the firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer deny the claim and the Regional Court Essen initially dismissed the lawsuit. However, today's outcome overrules the verdict of the regional court.
The energy giant RWE has defined itself as the largest single CO2 emitter in Europe. According to a 2014 study, the company is responsible for around half a percent of global historical industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
“The higher court’s arguments made it clear that individual actors must take responsibility even if many have contributed to the process of climate change. This is great news for global efforts to protect the climate and for those who suffer from the worst impacts of climate change,” says Klaus Mike, chairman of the environment and development organization Germanwatch, which is supporting and advising Luciano Lliuya in his efforts. “The pressure on large greenhouse gas emitters and politicians has grown immensely with today’s events. Now we must examine the question of how large-scale emitters can be held accountable for protecting the victims of climate change. We will feel the impact of these events at the ongoing UN Climate conference in Bonn. Nobody wants a flood of lawsuits, but those who are threatened by climate change should no longer lack support and justice.”