German Court Grants Peruvian Farmer’s Appeal Against RWE

On November 13, a German appeals court agreed to review evidence supporting arguments by Peruvian farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya in his case against German energy giant RWE for the company’s contributions to climate change impacts that are now threatening his Andean home.

Lliuya argues that RWE, as one of the world’s biggest emitters of carbon emissions, must share in the costs of protecting his home from the melting snow and ice that threaten to harm his hometown of Huaraz. Last year, a lower court rejected Lliuya’s request for compensation. The ruling this week that found Lliuya’s claims to be admissible and will reopen the door to assess the arguments and will make a decision on whether or not to hear evidence supporting Lliuya’s claims by November 30. For climate advocates who have been tracking the progression of global climate litigation, the decision is a significant victory.

When Lliuya filed the case in 2015, the plaintiff’s theory of causation, linking RWE’s greenhouse gas emissions as the cause of flooding of his home, was based on scientific data available in 2013.

Much has changed since then. The science of climate change attribution is becoming more sophisticated and more revealing with each passing year. In a September 2017 peer reviewed study in the journal Climate Change, researchers at the Climate Accountability Institute, Union of Concerned Scientists and University of Oxford demonstrated a methodology for attributing and apportioning climate impacts among a handful of the largest historical carbon dioxide emitters, known as the Carbon Majors. It remains to be seen how the courts will evaluate recent developments in attribution science that can now link the impacts of climate change to a finite list of carbon producers with more accuracy than ever before.

The German Court’s ruling coincides with the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, at COP 23 and the beginning of the trial for Greenpeace Nordic and Nature and Youth’s case against the Norwegian government.

Every milestone for one plaintiff in climate litigation is a milestone for all. The sooner the courts and defendants recognize what science is telling us about climate change the sooner we can hold parties accountable and ensure that a healthy and sustainable environment is protected around the world.

By Lisa Anne Hamilton
Director, Climate & Energy Program