The trip of this delegation, made up of nine people, is a new episode in this case for which the plaintiffs are seeking to set a precedent at the global level.
At the forefront of this demand for “climate justice”, Saul Luciano Lliuya, a 41-year-old Peruvian peasant, who accuses RWE of having favored the melting of glaciers through its greenhouse gas emissions.
The trip of the experts and judges to Peru was decided by the High Regional Court of Hamm (northern Germany) before which Mr. Lliuya appealed after being dismissed at first instance.
The expertise must determine the risk that the melting of the glaciers represents for the city of Huaraz (120,000 inhabitants) located below the glacial lake of Palcacocha.
“We want the RWE company to be held responsible for environmental damage,” the farmer, supported in his approach by the German environmental defense NGO, Germanwatch, told AFP.
The complaint was “dismissed at first instance because it had no legal basis and it did not respect German civil laws. We are convinced that it will be the same on appeal,” Guido Steffen told AFP. , a spokesperson for RWE.
For the group, “according to the law, individual issuers are not responsible for processes (…) universal, and indeed global, such as climate change”.
Saul Luciano Lliuya and Germanwatch met on the occasion of the Climate Conference (COP20) organized in 2014 in Lima. Members of the NGO then traveled to Huaraz to discuss with the farmer the possibilities of legal action.
– Landslide –
Saul Luciano Lliuya explains that his greatest fear is that the melting of the glaciers will cause an overflow of the lake, located at 4,650 meters above sea level, at the foot of the Palcaraju and Pucaranra glaciers, in the Huascaran National Park. Excessive melting could flood Huaraz.
“As a farmer and as a citizen, I don’t want these glaciers to disappear, they are important”, underlines Mr. Lliuya who says he feels “powerless” because “you know that you are in a risk zone and that there are has big industrial companies that cause all this”.
He owns a modest farm of 0.5 hectares, on the mountainside, where he lives frugally with his wife and their two children. He grows maize and other traditional crops like quinoa.
The retreat of the glaciers also makes him fear a drying up of the underground aquifers which would endanger agriculture and the water supply of Huaraz.
The procedure started in 2015. The following year RWE won in the first instance, but the farmer appealed in 2017. The experts’ visit was planned for 2019, but was delayed due to the pandemic.
Germanwatch lawyer Roda Verheyen wants RWE to “pay the costs to actually protect the town and farm of Lliuya” from possible flooding from the lake.
RWE disclaims any liability. “This record refers to our historical greenhouse gas emissions, and we have always operated our plants within government limits, including for our carbon dioxide emissions.”
The company has set itself the goal of carbon neutrality by 2040.
Over the past 50 years, Peru has lost 51% of its glaciers, according to 2020 data from the National Water Authority.
In 1941, following an avalanche, Lake Palcacocha caused flooding in Huaraz, killing 1,800 people, recalls Noah Walker-Crawford, climate change researcher at University College London (UCL) and expert from Germanwatch.
Subsequently, its volume of water lost nearly 96% in thirty years, before “growing very quickly due to the accelerated retreat of glaciers due to global warming”, according to him.