Court Advances Case Against German Greenhouse Gas Emitter

Last month, a German court ruled that it will hear a case brought by a Peruvian farmer against Germany’s largest energy producer, RWE, potentially having huge ramifications in so-called climate justice cases. Farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya sued the company in 2015 for emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, increasing the threat of glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) that endanger his home in Huaraz, in the foothills of the Andes.

This is only the second time a case against a greenhouse gas emitter has reached this stage— the first coming in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, which was swiftly reversed— says Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, who spoke to GlacierHub about the proceedings. Gerrard noted that this case is “very unusual,” and added, “We’ll see what happens with this one.”

The claim cited a 2013 report that stated RWE emitted 0.47 percent of worldwide carbon and methane emissions from 1751-2010, since industrialization, partly due to its use of coal-fired power plants. To reflect this figure, Lliuya is only seeking reimbursement of 0.47 percent of the damages, or $20,000, out of a total cost of about $4.3 million, to help pay for his home flood defenses. 

Justin Gundlach, staff attorney at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told GlacierHub, “Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case, the court’s order to the parties to submit evidence is highly significant. Effectively, the court is announcing that it is theoretically possible to trace liability for harms arising from climate change, in part, to a particular corporate defendant.”

“I think the case is mostly seeking to establish legal precedent,” said Gerrard. “He’s alleging very significant injury with a clear causal to climate change.”

Huaraz, a city of population 200,000, was struck by a GLOF in the past from nearby Lake Palcacocha. In 1941, about 5,000 were killed from a GLOF event, and another flood in 1970 also killed thousands following a 7.9 earthquake. While pipes have been installed to lower the water when it gets too high, climate change continues to melt glaciers, some by 90 percent, and increases the size and threat of glacier lakes.

A report in The Guardian indicated that the judges in the case said “Even people who act according to the law must be held responsible for damage they cause to property.”  

According to Deutsche Welle, a German news organization, a representative for RWE stated, “We don’t believe it’s possible under civil law to hold a single emitter responsible for something that countless human and natural resources also contribute to.”

Gundlach told GlacierHub that while RWE may not be liable, “Its decision to admit evidence indicates to would-be plaintiffs around the world that they might prevail if they can present the right set of facts.”

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Roundup: Climate justice, Impacts of Glacial Retreat, and Sediments

German Court to Hear Peruvian Farmer’s Climate Case Against RWE

From The Guardian: “A German court has ruled that it will hear a Peruvian farmer’s case against energy giant RWE over climate change damage in the Andes, a decision labeled by campaigners as a ‘historic breakthrough.’ Farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya’s case against RWE was ‘well-founded,’ the court in the north-western city of Hamm said on Thursday. Lliuya argues that RWE, as one of the world’s top emitters of climate-altering carbon dioxide, must share in the cost of protecting his hometown Huaraz from a swollen glacier lake at risk of overflowing from melting snow and ice.”

Read the full report here.

Saul Luciano Lliuya, a farmer from Peru, at the UN climate talks in Bonn earlier this month. (Source: The Guardian/Twitter).

 

Impacts of Rapidly Declining Snow and Ice in the Tropical Andes

From ScienceDirect: “The reduction in water supply for export-oriented agriculture, mining, hydropower production and human consumption are the most commonly discussed concerns associated with glacier retreat, but many other aspects including glacial hazards, tourism and recreation, and ecosystem integrity are also affected by glacier retreat. Social and political problems surrounding water allocation for subsistence farming have led to conflicts due to lack of adequate water governance. This review elaborates on the need for adaptation as well as the challenges and constraints many adaptation projects are faced with, and lays out future directions where opportunities exist to develop successful, culturally acceptable and sustainable adaptation strategies.

Read the research paper here.

Declining glacier on Mt. Ausangate in the Peruvian Andes (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

 

Greenland’s Meltwaters

From Nature Geoscience: “Limited measurements along Greenland’s remote coastline hamper quantification of the sediment and associated nutrients draining the Greenland ice sheet, despite the potential influence of river-transported suspended sediment on phytoplankton blooms and carbon sequestration. We find that, although runoff from Greenland represents only 1.1 percent of the Earth’s freshwater flux, the Greenland ice sheet produces approximately 8 percent of the modern fluvial export of suspended sediment to the global ocean. We conclude that future acceleration of melt and ice sheet flow may increase sediment delivery from Greenland to its fjords and the nearby ocean. ”

Read more here.

Researchers collecting samples of subglacial discharge from a land-terminating glacier of the Greenland ice sheet (Source: I. Overeem et al/Nature.com).

 

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