1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Peru farmer challenges energy giant on climate

November 13, 2017

A German court has ruled "admissible" a Peruvian farmer's claims that energy giant RWE's contributions to climate change threaten his Andean home. Environmentalists have praised the court for writing "legal history."

Deutschland Hamm CO2-Klage eines peruanischen Bauern gegen RWE
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Kirchner

Climate change activists on Monday hailed a German court's decision to proceed with a Peruvian farmer's case against German energy company RWE.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the court in the German town of Hamm found that Saul Luciano Lliuya's allegations that RWE's contributions to global warming were threatening his hometown of Huaraz had merit.

Luciano argues that RWE must share in the cost of protecting his Andean town from a swollen ice glacier that risks overflowing from melting snow and ice. The farmer is asking for just €17,000 ($20,000) from RWE, which would go towards funding flood defenses he plans to install for his community, as well as a further 6,384 euros in reimbursement for money he already spent out of his own pocket on protective measures.

Read more: Peruvian ice caps melting so fast, politics can't keep up

Resisting coal in Germany

Klaus Milke, chairman of the environmental pressure group Germanwatch, which is advising Luciano's claim, praised the court in Hamm for writing "legal history."

Why has Luciano singled out Germany's RWE in his claim?

  • Peruvian farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya said he based his claim on a 2013 climate study that found RWE, Germany's second largest electricity producer, responsible for 0.5 percent of all global emission "since the beginning of industrialization."
  • This, he argues, makes the German energy giant, at least - in part - responsible for the plight facing his hometown of Huaraz and must therefore share in the cost of protecting it.
  • RWE is one of the world's top emitters of carbon dioxide, although it claims to have invested billions into modernizing its coal-fired plants and into moving towards renewable energy.
  • Representatives for the energy giant maintain that, under German civil law, RWE alone cannot alone be held responsible for a global phenomenon, such as global warming.

Why is the case important?

  • The German court's decision to allow Luciano's case to enter its second stage could set precedent for future so-called "climate justice" cases.
  • Not only does Monday's decision mark the first time a German court has directly linked the emission of carbon dioxide to global warming; it also marks the first time ever that a court has acknowledged emitters may have to contribute towards protecting those vulnerable from climate change.
  • If successful, Luciano's claim could open the door for further cases seeking funding from energy companies to help protect those vulnerable from effects of climate change, particularly within developing countries.

Court expected to hear evidence

The court in Hamm has given both sides until November 30 to provide further arguments before deciding how to proceed. However, it added that the claim was "likely to proceed" to hearing evidence.

"It's good news for the many potential plaintiffs worldwide who will be emboldened to take action themselves," Klaus said.

Read more: Can we live in a world without fossil fuels? 

The case coincides with COP23 climate change conference taking place in Bonn, just a two-hour drive away from Hamm. Delegates at the Bonn conference  have gathered to negotiate the rulebook for the 2015 Paris climate pact, which calls for temperatures to be capped at "well below" two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

dm/ls (epa, Reuters, AFP)

Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz und Anne L' Huillier
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage