Peru Farmer Sues German Utility for Its ‘Damaging’ Emissions

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By Jabeen Bhatti

Dec. 4 — A farmer in Peru is suing Germany energy giant RWE for adversely affecting “his environment” thousands of miles from the company's headquarters due to its carbon dioxide emissions and asking for money to prevent damage.

Saúl Luciano Lliuya, a small farmer in Huarez in the northern Peruvian Andes, is arguing that RWE is partly responsible for glacial melting that endangers his family's livelihood and puts his city of 120,000 people at risk of flooding.

In the suit, filed Nov. 24 in Essen, in western Germany, where RWE's headquarters are based, the farmer is seeking 20,000 euros to pay for the draining of the glacial lake Palcacocha—to prevent flooding—until further safety measures can be implemented, his attorney, Roda Verheyen of the Günther law firm based in Hamburg and who is representing Lliuya, told Bloomberg BNA.

RWE has “caused a problem” through its share of emissions in the atmosphere, Verheyen said, holding the company responsible for 0.5 percent of emissions since the beginning of industrialization.

“A sulfur dioxide molecule emitted in Cologne could end up in a forest in Sweden, but it could also end up deposited in a river in Hamburg,” she said. “It's completely different than CO2, because every [molecule] of CO2 could end up in the atmosphere.”

RWE Accountable?

The claim is based on a 1986 provision in the German civil law code, according to Verheyen, which states that if an individual or company uses their property to negatively affect another's, then the harming entity must cease their activity.

Lliuya was encouraged to contact RWE a year ago through Germanwatch, an environmental advocacy group, which advised him to claim damages from RWE due to its status as one of the largest energy providers in Europe, as well as its spot as one of the top carbon dioxide emitters on the continent, said Germanwatch board chairman Klaus Milke.

“Carbon dioxide has an effect on the entire planet,” said Milke, when reached by telephone while attending the Climate Change Conference in Paris.

He hopes the lawsuit will raise the accountability of companies and international governing bodies so that in the future “farmers don't have to file lawsuits in order to receive protection.”

Legal Basis Disputed

Before filing suit, Lliuya sent a letter in March to RWE asking that it pay for protective measures against the risk of flooding. The company rejected the request, saying the claim had no substance legally, Verheyen said.

RWE spokesman Klaus-Peter Kress compared the claim to a legal basis Germany's Federal Court of Justice and Constitutional Court reached in the 1990s, which denied the responsibility of companies for sulfur dioxide emissions that appeared in forests throughout Europe.

The legal analogy, however, is incongruous in the view of Verheyen, who said the suit is seeking costs not for any concrete damages, but rather for the risk that they will materialize from the carbon dioxide emissions.

“There's a very high risk involving a flood and whoever is responsible for that risk has to alleviate the risk and has to make sure that no damage arises,” she said. “This is exactly the kind of situation this provision also envisions.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jabeen Bhatti in Berlin at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com