News | 24 May 2023

Saúl Luciano Lliuya against RWE: expert opinion expected in summer

Sign saying "Ruta de Evacuación" in front of a rushing stream

The danger situation is omnipresent in Huaraz. A sign here indicates the evacuation route in case of a flood wave.

Saúl Luciano Lliuya, an Andean farmer and mountain guide from Peru, and more than 50,000 other inhabitants of the Andean city of Huaraz are threatened by a flood wave due to global warming. Saúl decided to take action: On 24 November 2015, he filed a lawsuit against the energy company RWE in a German civil court.

One year after the court visit to Huaraz, the expert report will finally be available this summer. A hearing at the Higher Regional Court of Hamm is expected later this year.

At the end of 2017, the Higher Regional Court of Hamm decided to start taking evidence in the case against RWE. In May 2022, judges of the Higher Regional Court of Hamm, legal advisors, and court-appointed experts travelled to Peru. They investigated whether the house of the plaintiff and his family are indeed threatened by a flood wave from the glacial lake Palcacocha, located 4,500 metres above the city. The entire hazard zone in Huaraz covers an area in which about 50,000 people live.

The risk assessment report is expected this summer. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Roda Verheyen, says, "It is difficult to understand why, almost a year after the on-site visit, there is still no expert report. Unfortunately, as the plaintiff's representatives, we can't speed things up - that's entirely up to the court."

The delay in the legal process is worrying, given the dangerous situation on the ground. Plaintiff Saúl Luciano Lliuya is relieved that things are now moving forward, "The risk of flooding is constantly increasing. There are already warnings from neighbouring mountain lakes. Besides me, more than 50,000 people are at risk of flooding."

Once the expert opinion is available, the parties to the trial will probably have six weeks to comment on it. The Higher Regional Court of Hamm will then set a date for an oral hearing to discuss the report—probably before the end of the year. If the court comes to the conclusion that the flood risk claimed by the plaintiff does exist, the second question of proof will be to determine the extent to which human-made climate change and the CO2 emissions released by RWE are partly responsible for the risk of a glacial lake outburst.

In his lawsuit, Saúl Luciano Lliuya demands that RWE contribute to the costs of the urgently needed protection measures at the Palcacocha glacial lake. According to studies, RWE has been responsible for 0.47 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since the beginning of industrialisation. According to the plaintiff, it therefore contributes to the melting of the glaciers in the Andes and the risk of flooding in Huaraz. So far, this is the only case of its kind in the world that has made it to the evidentiary stage before a higher court.

The Higher Regional Court of Hamm already made legal history with this case back in 2017. By opening the evidentiary hearing, the court confirmed that, under German civil law, a private company can in principle be held liable for its share in causing climate-related damage and risks.

Germanwatch, an environmental and development organisation, has been supporting the lawsuit since it was filed at the Regional Court in Essen because of its precedent-setting nature. The German foundation Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit has pledged to cover all of the plaintiff’s legal costs and is regularly appealing for donations.