News | 24 November 2023

8 years of climate lawsuit against RWE

Kleinbauer Saúl Luciano Lliuya

Huaraz/Bonn (24 Nov. 2023). Today, eight years ago, the Peruvian mountain guide and small farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya filed his civil lawsuit against RWE at the regional court in Essen in Germany. What began back then has now become one of the world's most recognised precedents for the question of whether individual major emitters must pay for protection against climate risks.

The RWE case is about the construction of a protective dam on the Palcacocha glacial lake above the city in order to protect the plaintiff and over 50,000 people from a flood disaster. The lake has grown considerably due to the melting of the glacier. Chunks of rock could fall into the lake and trigger a flood wave several metres high.

In his lawsuit, Saúl Luciano Lliuya is demanding that the German energy company contribute financially to the necessary protective measures. In fact, to the extent of RWE's share of man-made climate change - around 0.5 per cent. "RWE must take responsibility," the mountain guide demands. "We in Peru have hardly contributed anything to climate change, but we are living with the worst consequences."

State of the proceedings: oral hearing in 2024

The plaintiff already had a long way to go - but with success: the court confirmed in 2017 that climate damage can lead to corporate liability and decided to enter the taking of evidence. The first hurdle has thus been overcome. "From a legal perspective, these proceedings are already historic," emphasises Saúl's lawyer Dr Roda Verheyen. "No other comparable climate lawsuit in the world has reached such an advanced stage in the proceedings.

During the taking of evidence, the first question to be investigated is the extent to which Saúl's family's property is threatened by a flood wave. If there is a legally relevant risk, the next step is to investigate the extent to which climate change and thus emissions by RWE are responsible for the flood risk. At the end of May 2022, judges from the Hamm Higher Regional Court, legal advisors and court-appointed experts travelled to Peru to inspect the plaintiff's property and the Palcacocha glacial lake. An on-site visit in the Peruvian Andes - a novel experience for everyone involved.

Next year, an oral hearing will be held at Hamm Higher Regional Court as part of the taking of evidence. The subject of the hearing will be the expert opinion on the flood risk. The plaintiff will be travelling to Germany for the hearing.

Climate change leads to a "global neighbourhood relation"

The RWE case has already led to a new reading of Section 1004 of the German Civil Code, the general provision under German civil law for protection against interference with property, which is the basis for Saúls claim. The section is typically applied in neighbourhood disputes around issues of property impairment.  The Hamm Higher Regional Court found this to be relevant for the RWE case. It ruled that climate change with its cross-border effects has brought about a kind of global neighborly relationship, so that Section 1004 also applies here. Many other jurisdictions have similar nuisance provisions as Section 1004.. The lawsuit thus increases the pressure on emission-intensive companies, but also on politicians, to seriously address the need for regulation in this area

Support the plaintiff to take the next steps

While the lawsuit is still going on, RWE has made record profits again this year. At the same time, we see the climate crisis worsening all over the world. Many people have already shown their solidarity with the plaintiff and made a donation to help keep the proceedings against one of Europe's largest emitters going for eight years. Help us to take the next steps for more climate justice.

Donate here

More information on the RWE case here

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