Human-Induced Global Warming Could Establish Legal Liability for Polluters

There is no doubt that global warming is a repercussion of human activities. A recent study has revealed that human-induced global warming is responsible for a shrinking Andean glacier could establish legal liability for polluters. According to the new research, human-induced glacier melting is responsible for a shrinking Andean glacier that threatens to flood 120,000 people.

Published in Nature Geoscience, the study was led by scientists at the University of Oxford and the University of Washington. It found that various human activities have caused the vast majority of temperature increases in the region. As a result of the temperature rise, glacier lakes like Lake Palcacocha high in the Peruvian Andes, are turning into flooding grounds.

Human-Induced Global Warming Could Establish Legal Liability for Polluters

Human-induced global warming could establish legal liability for polluters | Image: Dan Collyns/The Guardian

The study is anticipated to influence a lawsuit brought by Peruvian farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya against Germany’s largest electricity provider RWE for $20,000 to cover the costs of averting destruction from a possible outburst from the lake; a meager amount based on RWE’s comparative contribution to total greenhouse gas emissions.  The resulting flood would trigger a deadly landslide swamping the city of Huaraz and threatening thousands of people in its path.

Prof Thom Wetzer, the founding director of the Oxford Sustainable Law Program, said,

A number of new lawsuits are attempting to hold high-emission companies responsible for the costs of climate change. It is now up to litigators to translate the science into high-impact legal arguments.

Climate litigators say the new research could be key to holding major polluters accountable for their contribution to climate change. The study revealed that the human-induced temperature rises have caused between 85 percent and 105 percent of the observed 1 degree Celsius heating in the region since 1880.

The temperature shift has caused the retreat of the Palcaraju glacier. Andean glaciers, 70 percent of which are in Peru, are among the fastest retreating mountain ice caps and one of the most visible impacts of the climate crisis.

Rupert Stuart-Smith, the lead author of the study, said,

It shows that warming has caused the retreat of the Palcaraju glacier which, in turn, has increased the flood risk. Crucially, this establishes a direct link between emissions and the need to implement protective measures now, as well as any damages caused by flooding in future.

If the litigators can potentially translate the science into high-impact legal arguments, there is huge potential to leverage the power of the law to hold private companies liable for climate change-related impacts.

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