RWE lawsuit (re climate change)
Snapshot: In 2015, a Peruvian farmer filed a letter of complaint against RWE, a Germany energy company, in a German court, alleging his home land is threatened by climate change caused by RWE. The plaintiff asks RWE to pay repair costs for his home, relative to the percentage RWE has contributed to global warming. RWE maintains a single company cannot be held responsible for the consequences of climate change.
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In March 2015, Peruvian farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya filed a letter of complaint against RWE, a German energy company over the impact of its activities on climate change.
The plaintiff alleges that his home in Huaraz, on the floodpath of Palcacocha Lake, is “acutely threatened” by the potential collapse of two glaciers into the lake that would cause significant flooding as a consequence of global warming. He alleges that RWE has been a major emitter of greenhouse gases, which are causing glacial retreat increasing the risk of flooding in the area. The plaintiff asks RWE to pay £14,250 for its contribution to global warming. This amount is 0.47% of the estimated repair cost in case of flooding, and this figure corresponds to the Institute of Climate Responsibility’s estimation that RWE is responsible of 0.47% of global warming emissions from 1751 to 2010. The compensation would be invested in installing a glacial flood outburst early warning system, draining the Palcacocha Lake and building new dams or improving existing ones, in order to prevent the risk of flooding in the area.
In May 2015, RWE issued its official reply to the plaintiff’s letter of complaint maintaining that the claims lack a legal basis and the company is therefore not responsible, rejecting his request for compensation.
In November 2015, Lliuya filed a lawsuit against RWE in a German court. On 15 December 2016, the lawsuit was dismissed because the judge found that the plaintiff had not established that RWE was legally responsible for protecting Huaraz from flooding. In January 2017, the plaintiff filed an appeal.
After an initial hearing on 13 November 2017 when the higher regional court found that the appeal had merit and granted a delay to both parties to provide further arguments, the court confirmed on 30 November 2017 that it would proceed to hearing the case. The court said it would consult experts in cooperation with both parties to measure the defendant's contribution to the risks of flooding. RWE dismissed the farmer's complaint once again as unfounded and maintains the position that a single company cannot be held responsible for the consequences of climate change.
In May 2022, judges and experts appointed by the court visited the Palcacocha Lake area in Peru to assess the risk and level of damage represented by the melting of the glaciers for the city of Huaraz.
The case is ongoing.
-German judges visit Peru glacial lake in unprecedented climate crisis lawsuit, Dan Collyns, Guardian, 27 May 2022
- [podcast series] "Climate in the Courtroom", ABC Science Friction, 5 Jul 2020
- "German court to hear Peruvian farmer's climate case against RWE", AFP and Guardian, 30 Nov 2017
- "Peruvian climate lawsuit against German coal giant dismissed", Climate Home, 15 Dec 2016
- "Peruvian farmer sues German energy firm RWE", Deutsche Welle, 24 Nov 2016
- "Claim blaming utility for devastating glacier melt in Peru may set landmark legal precedent", Lisa Friedman, E & E Publising, LLC; 6 Apr 2015
- "Peruvian farmer demands climate compensation from German company", Dan Collyns, Guardian (UK), 16 Mar 2015
- [DE] RWE unter Druck, Svenja Beller, Greenpeace Magazin, 16 Mar 2015
- [DE] Peruanischer Bauer droht mit Klage gegen RWE, Handelsblatt, 16 Mar 2015
- Company response, 23 Mar 2015