Who is the Peruvian plaintiff who sued the Essen-based energy company RWE because of the consequences of climate change?

Katja Gelinsky

Business correspondent in Berlin

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Saúl Luciano Lliuyas is the owner of a house in the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru.

His home is below the Palcacocha glacial lake.

The plaintiff is described by his supporters as a small farmer and mountain guide.

He is politically active in his region and also does media work there.

What is Saul Luciano Lliuyas asking RWE to do?

Lliuyas blames RWE for the fact that his house is threatened by a glacier melt as a result of climate change.

He demands that the group pays for 0.47 percent of the necessary protective measures, corresponding to the share of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions for which RWE is responsible.

Because of the risk of flooding, the plaintiff added a second floor to his house and reinforced the outer walls.

However, the main aim of his lawsuit is for RWE to assume a proportionate share of the costs for strengthening the flood protection system on the glacial lake.

There is a dam there, which, according to the plaintiff, does not offer sufficient protection.

How did RWE react to the lawsuit?

The group considers the claim to be unfounded and refers to the large number of global emissions of greenhouse gases from natural and man-made sources.

According to German civil law, it is not possible to legally attribute the specific effects of climate change to a single polluter and thus make a single emitter liable for "generally caused and globally effective processes such as climate change".

Why is the plaintiff specifically and exclusively targeting RWE?

His German lawyer, Roda Verheyen, replies that the lawsuit against RWE is a first step and that the Essen-based group is Europe's largest CO2 emitter.

Why is the German judiciary dealing with possible climate damage in Peru?

Actions in civil proceedings may be brought, inter alia, in the court that has local jurisdiction for the defendant's place of residence.

In the case of RWE, this was the Essen district court in the first instance.

The lawsuit was dismissed there in 2016.

The plaintiff then appealed.

Therefore, the Hamm Higher Regional Court is now responsible.

Who filed the lawsuit?

The environmental organization Germanwatch and its closely associated Foundation for Sustainability.

In connection with the conference on the climate framework convention in Lima in 2014, they made contact with Saúl Luciano Lliuyas through several people.

Both organizations are supporting the lawsuit, for example through public relations work, and the Sustainability Foundation is also providing financial support.

Who is the plaintiff's attorney?

Roda Verheyen is one of the most prominent lawyers specializing in climate litigation.

Contact with the plaintiff came about through Germanwatch and the Stiftung Zukunftbarkeit.

Verheyen has been advising both organizations for a long time.

She also represented complainants in the proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court that ended last year with the climate change resolution, which was heralded as historic.

She currently represents, among others, the organic farmer who sued VW in the Detmold district court.

How has the case against RWE gone so far?

The Essen Regional Court considered the lawsuit unfounded.

The legal requirements for causality are not met because the risk of flooding also exists without RWE's 0.47 percent share of global CO2 emissions.

The OLG Hamm, on the other hand, assumes that the lawsuit is conclusive, i.e. that the Peruvian’s claim against RWE is well-founded – provided that the facts presented by the plaintiff can be proven.

What did the court want to clarify this week in Peru?

Lawyer Verheyen speaks of a "risk assessment".

The two experts who are dealing with the case had informed the OLG Hamm that a joint on-site visit was necessary so that they could answer the questions they had been asked during the taking of evidence.

Among other things, an expert opinion on the risks for the plaintiff's house is to be drawn up.

The expert commissioned with this wanted to clarify on the spot with the presiding judge, another judge and the lawyers what exactly should be assessed.

In a second report, the question is to be investigated as to whether and to what extent RWE is responsible for the damage alleged by the plaintiff because of its CO2 emissions.

What happens after the assessment date in Peru?

It is likely that the court will then hear the case orally.

What role does the climate decision of the Federal Constitutional Court play in the proceedings?

The Karlsruhe court only ruled on the state's climate commitments.

But the Peruvian farmer and other climate prosecutors are counting on other courts feeling encouraged to make innovative climate protection decisions as well.

It remains to be seen whether the Higher Regional Court of Hamm will adopt certain lines of argument from the Federal Constitutional Court, such as responsibility for future generations.

The plaintiffs in the proceedings against RWE also see themselves reinforced by the argument of the Federal Constitutional Court that everyone must make a contribution to the fight against climate change in their area of ​​responsibility.

Have climate plaintiffs already won lawsuits against companies?

Yes, one of the greatest successes is the judgment of a Dutch district court last year, which obliged the energy company Shell, then Royal Dutch Shell, to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45 percent net by 2030 compared to 2019.