Peruvian farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya, seen talking with his lawyer Roda Verheyen, wants RWE to help fund flood defences for his northern community and reimburse him for money he has spent on protective measures
Hamm (Germany) (AFP) - A German court began hearing an appeal Monday by a Peruvian farmer who accuses energy giant RWE of contributing to climate change that is threatening his home and livelihood in the Andes.
Saul Luciano Lliuya argues that RWE, as one of the world’s top emitters of climate-altering carbon dioxide, must share in the cost of protecting his hometown Huaraz from a swollen glacier lake at risk of overflowing from melting snow and ice.
A lower court in the western city of Essen where RWE is based dismissed the initial lawsuit last December, ruling that there are “countless emitters of greenhouse gases” and that Luciano had failed to demonstrate a direct link between the German utility and the flood risk.
Luciano, who is also a mountain guide, is now hoping the higher court in the city of Hamm will side with him in what German media have likened to a “David versus Goliath” battle.
“I would like to return home to the mountains and tell the people that I was able to do something for them,” the father-of-two told reporters at the court.
Luciano, who is being advised by the pressure group Germanwatch, wants RWE to pay 17,000 euros ($20,000) to help pay for flood defences for his community in Peru’s northern Ancash region.
The 37-year-old also wants the German company to reimburse him for the 6,384 euros he himself has spent on protective measures.
Luciano bases his claims on a 2013 climate study which found that RWE was responsible for 0.5 percent of global emissions “since the beginning of industrialisation”.
He says this makes the firm at least partly responsible for his plight.
- Climate in spotlight -
RWE, Germany’s second-largest electricity producer, has long insisted the Peruvian’s case has no legal basis, arguing that a single company cannot be held liable for the global consequences of climate change.
A spokesman told AFP last year that RWE did not understand why it had been singled out for legal action, and stressed the efforts the company had made to become more environmentally friendly.
As well as modernising its coal-fired power plants to reduce CO2 emissions, RWE has invested billions in renewable energy as part of Germany’s move away from fossil fuels, the spokesman said.
Luciano’s lawyer Roda Verheyen, however, said she continues to believe her client has a winnable case that could set a precedent for so-called “climate justice” cases.
She said she hoped the appeal judges would allow the case to proceed, adding that she thought the Essen court was “wrong” when it ruled that one large emitter among many could not be held responsible.
“We want to prove that RWE’s emissions have contributed to the specific problem in Peru, and significantly so,” she told reporters.
The case comes as climate change is once again in the global spotlight with the UN climate talks taking place in Bonn, a two-hour drive away from the Hamm courthouse.
Thousands of diplomats from around the world have gathered there to negotiate the “rulebook” for the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which goes into effect in 2020.
The pact calls for capping global warming at “well under” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and 1.5 C if possible.