The climate case
Imagine that the consequences of climate change were acutely threatening the lives of your family and neighbours. What would you do?
Peruvian Saúl Luciano Lliuya, an Andean farmer and mountain guide, doesn’t want to wait until he, his family, and his neighbourhood are subject to harm. His home and much of the Andean city of Huaraz are at severe risk of flooding due to the effects of global warming. Glacial melt has expanded a glacial lake above the city to a threatening size. Huaraz residents fear that an ice avalanche could cause the lake to overflow, unleashing a tidal wave that could destroy their city.
Luciano Lliuya has decided to take the initiative. “The polluters of climate change should finally be held accountable.” With his lawyer’s support, he filed a lawsuit against the German energy company RWE on 24 November 2015. RWE, as one of Europe’s largest CO2 emitters, shares responsibility for climate change and the threat of the lake’s flooding that would affect up to 20,000 people.
RWE has accounted for 0.5% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions and thus contributed substantially to climate change. it is therefore expected to accordingly pay half a percent of the costs of necessary protective measures.
Luciano Lliuya is concerned about the urgently needed protection for himself, his family, and the people of Huaraz, all of whom have contributed little or not at all to climate change.
The major polluters of climate change must finally face up to their responsibilities.
Saúl Luciano Lliuya
Glacial melt in the Andes – A consequence of climate change
Saúl Luciano Lliuya and the inhabitants of Huaraz, a city in the Peruvian Andes, live in danger. For years, glacial melting due to climate change has caused the water level of nearby Lake Palcacocha to rise. This glacial lake a few kilometres away and above the city has expanded over fourfold since 2003 and 34 times its size in 1970. Climate change is increasing the risk of large ice blocks breaking off the glaciers and falling into the lake. A tidal wave would have devastating consequences for the area’s people and would cause metre-high flooding in Huaraz’s lower-lying urban areas.
“Every day I see the glaciers melting and the lakes in the mountains growing,” Luciano Lliuya says. “For us in the valley, the threat is immense. We can’t just wait to see what happens. It’s clear to me that those who cause climate change must take responsibility: The companies around the world that are changing the climate with their greenhouse gases.”
It’s only a question of when, not if.
Saúl Luciano Lliuya
“A man who takes responsibility”
Luciano Lliuya’s lawsuit has had a signal effect like no other climate lawsuit, as it is the world’s only such case involving corporate liability for climate risks to make it to an evidentiary hearing, thus already making legal history.
Luciano Lliuya is not a lone fighter. He represents a growing number of people who, faced with inadequate political and corporate responses to the climate crisis, are increasingly turning to the world’s courts and demanding climate justice. Their lawsuits give a voice to those whom climate impacts particularly affect, even though these people have contributed little to not at all to the climate problem.
- Help the plaintiff and the people of Huaraz reduce the risk of destructive flooding.
- Hold polluters like RWE accountable and encourage them to adopt less-damaging business models.
- Bring about national and international political solutions to protect the people most affected by climate change.
In addition to the lawsuit, an important goal of Luciano Lliuya is to raise awareness about climate change. The dramatic extent of glacial melt is visible to everyone in his region, but some lack knowledge about the scientific connection. Adapting to climate change is a challenge for many people, especially in the agricultural sector. To address these issues, Luciano Lliuya and his fellow local activists founded an NGO called Wayintsik, meaning “our house” in Quechua, to support educational projects on climate change and adaptation in local communities.