Climate change effect on Peruvian glaciers taken to German court
A local farmer accuses RWE of endangering his home by contributing to global warming.
German judges and specialists have gathered at the brink of a melting glacier high in the Peruvian Andes to investigate a case filed by a local farmer accusing energy giant RWE of endangering his home by contributing to global warming.
The nine-member delegation's travel to the region is the next step in a lawsuit that the plaintiffs hope will set a new global standard.
Saul Luciano Lliuya, a 41-year-old Peruvian farmer living in the mountains near Huaraz, is leading the call for "climate justice".
He has filed a lawsuit against the German utility RWE, alleging that its greenhouse gas emissions are to blame for the melting of neighboring glaciers.
The journey was ordered by the Higher Regional Court in Hamm, northern Germany, where Lliuya filed his claim against RWE after his case was dismissed by another court in Essen.
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The delegation must assess the threat that melting glaciers pose to Huaraz and its 120,000 residents below the Palcacocha glacier.
"In general they have polluted all over the world and with this claim, we are trying to do something," said Lliuya. RWE operates in 27 countries in the world, including Chile and Brazil, but not Peru.
The claim "was rejected in the first instance because it did not have any legal basis and did not respect German civil law," RWE spokesman Guido Steffen told AFP.
"We are confident this will happen again with the appeal."
Lliuya and Germanwatch met in Lima in 2014 during the COP20 climate change summit, after which the German NGO's activists traveled to Huaraz to negotiate a prospective claim in Germany.
Lliuya's greatest concern is that the melting glaciers would cause the Palcacocha lake to overflow.
The massive blue-turquoise lake is below the Palcaraju and Pucaranra glaciers in the Huascaran national park at an elevation of 4,650 meters (15,000 feet) and might flood Huaraz below if its banks burst.
"As a farmer and citizen I don't want these glaciers to disappear, they're important," said Lliuya.
However, he claims to be "impotent" because "you know you're in a risk zone, and there are businesses and industries that have caused this."
Lliuya's family consists of his wife and two children. Their kitchen is equipped with a few utensils and a large tree trunk that acts as a dining table.
That said, he expressed his concern that a drought in the subsurface aquifers may jeopardize local agriculture and Huaraz's water supply.
Battle in German courts
RWE was sued in 2015, and the German business prevailed in the first instance the following year. However, in 2017, the Hamm court consented to hear the case.
The experts' visit, which was scheduled for 2019, was pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Germanwatch and Lliuya want RWE to cover the costs of protecting Huaraz from flooding.
"This case refers to our historic emissions of greenhouse gases, and we have always complied with governmental limits, including our carbon dioxide emissions," said RWE, which has stated a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.
Peru has lost 51% of its glaciers in the previous 50 years, according to the national water authority in 2020.