When the owner of a small Peruvian farm moved to sue a giant of the energy industry, no-one noticed, but, as the case progresses, it could have a major impact on legislation and how future lawsuits brought on the grounds of global warming are handled. It could also spur the investment needed to accelerate the technological advances to deal efficiently with the menace of climate change.
Perhaps most significantly, it could force through the implementation of currently slow-moving regulatory changes.
On 30 November 2017, a lawcourt in Hamm, western Germany, deemed Saul Luciano Lliuya’s case against a power plant operator admissible. The company’s plants emit large quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which Lliuya claims is causing an Andean glacier to melt, with the negative knock-on effect of causing adverse changes to local rainfall. The court ordered a series of studies to determine how the energy producer could be sued, even though it does not have any energy production capacity on or local to Lliuya’s property.
The essential question the court in Hamm will need to answer is whether the energy producer, as the operator of coal-fired power plants, is guilty of contributing to GHG emissions and consequently to global warming, and if so, to what degree?
Saul Lliuya is not asking for much. He is only seeking reimbursement of costs for the work he and his community have done to deal with the increased risks of flooding, calculated pro-rata based on the energy company’s contribution to global greenhouse emissions.
Of course, that is not what is really significant here. Setting aside Lliuya seeking indemnity, this case is about trying:
The court in Hamm will need to address a number of fundamental questions.
The issue that this little-known case brings to the fore is that, to deal with global warming, public authorities will need to become more involved than they have ever been. While they will need to enact new rules, they will also have to compensate the losses of certain players who have been weakened by the need to adapt to new climate paradigms, and incite primary players financially to make the necessary investments. Without a doubt, the first countries to make these major changes, and agree to spend the money necessary to do so, will be the winners of the future.
In this light, justice, the third power, may need to intervene to stop everyone from continuing to go around in circles. In other words, it may need to be the one that
The Hamm court’s ruling will be carefully studied.