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30 May 2022

Dan Collyns, The Guardian,
Frankfurter Allgemeine,
// AFP

Germany: Judges visit Peru glacial lake to determine level of damage in climate lawsuit against RWE

"German judges visit Peru glacial lake in unprecedented climate crisis lawsuit", 27 May 2022

In a global first for climate breakdown litigation, judges from Germany have visited Peru to determine the level of damage caused by Europe’s largest emitter in a case that could set a precedent for legal claims over human-caused global heating.

Judges and court-appointed experts visited a glacial lake in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountain range this week to determine whether Germany’s largest electricity provider, RWE, is partially liable for the rise in greenhouse gases that could trigger a devastating flood.

Framed by majestic ice-capped peaks, Lake Palcacocha has swollen in volume by 34 times in the last five decades. A peer-reviewed study links accelerated glacial melt caused by global heating to the substantial risk of an outburst flood which could trigger a deadly landslide inundating the city of Huaraz below.

In 2017, judges in Hamm, Germany, made legal history by accepting a case brought by farmer and mountain guide Saúl Luciano Lliuya against RWE, asking for €17,000 (£14,490) for the costs of preventing damage from a potentially devastating outburst flood from the lake...

Lliuya’s house in Huaraz’s hardscrabble Nueva Florida neighbourhood lies in the flood path where about 50,000 people would be under threat. The local authorities have established an early warning system that would set off sirens in case the lake breaches its banks...

The German court has already agreed that RWE would be liable for the damages if it can be proved that the glacier poses a flood risk and that climate breakdown had caused it to melt.

“To my knowledge, this is the absolute first case globally where judges travel from one country, where the jurisdiction is, to the country where the damage is, where it is actually climate change-related,” said Roda Verheyen, an environmental lawyer who represents Lliuya...

Petra Minnerop, associate professor of International Law at Durham University, [said] “...this would be one of the first cases that could make use of attribution studies.”

Attribution studies seek to test whether – and by how much – climate breakdown may be responsible for extreme weather events; such as extreme flooding, droughts, excessive heat or hurricanes.

The case could have implications for fossil fuel companies. RWE is being sued for having contributed to 0.47% of historical global emissions. Firms like BP and Shell could also face similar cases in the future...