A judge in the German city of Hamm delighted climate campaigners this week when he ruled that a Peruvian farmer could take his claim for climate change compensation against energy giant RWE to the next stage.
The lawsuit has been brought on behalf of Saul Luciano Lliuya, a farmer and mountain guide from near Huaraz, a city of 120,000 in the Andes mountains. He claims RWE, which is Europe’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is contributing to the rapid melting of glaciers near his home. The melting is widely thought to be caused by global temperature rises ascribed to CO2 emissions.
The judgment means Mr. Lliuya and his supporters will be invited to submit concrete evidence linking climate change in the Andes to specific actions on the part of RWE.
“Individual emitters of carbon dioxide cannot be held liable for general global events such as climate change.”
The actual compensation sought by the farmer is not substantial. Mr. Lliuya says he has spent more than €6,000 ($7,140) on flood-protection devices, and needs €17,000 more to complete the job of protecting his town. But RWE could face considerable damage to its image, and a dangerous legal precedent. Environmental campaigners are determined to use the case to demosstrate that high CO2 emitters can be held legally responsible for large climatic changes.
Mr. Lliuya’s lawsuit rests on a 2013 study that claimed that RWE, Germany’s largest electricity producer, is responsible for 0.5 percent of all emissions worldwide since the beginning of the industrial era. RWE was chosen as the defendant to make a point: With its coal- and lignite-fired power stations, the company produces more carbon dioxide than any other in Europe.
A lower court in the industrial city of Essen initially ruled against Mr. Lliuya, saying that RWE had no case to answer, but the decision was overturned by the more senior regional court in Hamm. Two weeks ago, campaigners celebrated when the presiding judge, Rolf Meyer, sided with the Peruvian campaigner. After a three hour hearing, Mr. Meyer adjucated that the case should be allowed to go further. The environmental organization Germanwatch, which supports Mr. Lliuya, said then that the decision “made legal history.”
The evidence evaluation phase of the case will come next, during which Mr. Lliuya and his lawyers must prove a specific link between the emissions from RWE’s power plants and climate change impacting the Andes.
The court will select experts to evaluate the claim for environmental compensation; they will work in cooperation with both the plaintiff and the defendant. Mr. Lliuya and his supporters must pay approximately €20,000 in court fees before this phase can be completed.
Although still a heavy emitter of carbon dioxide, RWE points out that it has invested heavily in modernizing its coal-fired plants and is participating in Germany’s overall drive to achieve 80 percent renewable energy by 2050. The company says it regards the case as “not admissible and without foundation.” It adds that according to German civil law, “an individual emitter of carbon dioxide cannot be held liable for generally caused, global events like climate change and possible individual consequences of them.”
Jürgen Flauger covers the energy market for Handelsblatt, including electricity and gas providers, international market developments and energy policy. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org