David scratches goliath

David scratches goliath

A Peruvian small farmer demands help from energy company RWE against the effects of climate change. If this is the first time that a negotiation about the responsibility of energy companies for global warming is taking place?

Peruvian smallholder Saúl Luciano Lliuya has cleared an important hurdle in his legal dispute with energy company RWE over the consequences of climate change. In the Senate's view, the plea is conclusive according to a preliminary assessment, and a hearing of evidence is likely to be forthcoming, the Higher Regional Court said after an oral hearing.

The final decision on whether to hold an evidentiary hearing is to be made on 30 September. to be announced in November. If the court follows its initial assessment, it would be the first time that energy companies' responsibility for global warming would be litigated.

A link between the melting of the adjacent glacier and the energy company's activities is likely, the court said. The defendant energy company can comment on the Senate's legal assessment expressed on Monday until the pronouncement date. RWE had previously rejected the possibility of a settlement proposed by the court.

Pay for protective measures against climate change

Lliuya, a small farmer, wants RWE to pay for protective measures against climate change in his home country. He had failed in the first instance at the Essen Regional Court in December 2016. He had appealed against this. Lliuya wants to hold Germany's second-largest energy company, which operates coal-fired power plants, liable for the consequences of global warming. His house is in the Andean town of Huaraz, which sits on a mountain lake. Because the water level had risen due to the melting of an adjacent glacier, flooding was imminent, he argued.

Lliuya, who traveled from Peru, welcomed the judges' assessment. Justice would thus prevail, he hoped. His lawyer Roda Verheyen called the hearing a historic moment. "For the first time, a court has ruled that contributors to climate change must in principle pay for protection against the risks posed to others as a result of climate change."

In the hearing of evidence, it must be proven that the evidence in the individual case of Huaraz is sufficient to oblige RWE to make the required payments. "It's still going to be a long road," Verheyen acknowledged. "But we are very confident that we can close the chain of evidence."

RWE counters accusations

The environmental organization Germanwatch also said it was the first time a German court had confirmed the link between CO2 emissions and global warming. The court is thus setting a precedent, said Klaus Milke of the environment and development organization that is monitoring the proceedings. However, not every inhabitant of Huaraz in Germany could go to court to enforce his possible claims. "Politics must act now," Milke emphasized.

Representatives of RWE, on the other hand, said that under German civil law, an individual emitter cannot be held liable for generally caused and global phenomena such as climate change. Otherwise, a flood of lawsuits would have to be expected.

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