Saúl Luciano Lliuya

Picture of Giraffe Saúl Luciano Lliuya

Saúl Luciano Lliuya has lived on the banks of the Quilcay River in Huaraz, Peru—population about 120,000—his whole life. He and his family farm corn, potatoes, and wheat, and he also guides people into the nearby mountains. For the past few years, his main job has been working to prevent an ecological disaster.

In 1941, a nearby glacial lake flooded, killing 1,800 people, which at the time was about a third of Huaraz’s residents. In the next few decades, thousands of people in nearby communities were killed from similar floods, earthquakes, and avalanches. In 2009, it was determined that the lake that had flooded in 1941 was now 34 times bigger. What was once a glacier was now a lagoon, which constantly threatened to overflow.

Luciano Lliuya: “I am really worried—as a guide, as a farmer, and as a citizen.”

So, in 2015, he did something about it: The environmental nonprofit group Germanwatch was working against the German energy company RWE, whose pollution from coal- and gas-fired power plants, they claimed, was causing global warming. Lliuya agreed to sue RWE in Peru, as a Peruvian endangered by the company’s actions in his country. Lliuya gave Germanwatch “standing” to fight RWE in Peru.

Lliuya knew it would take years to resolve—years of time away from his family and his work, years of hassles from politicians, journalists, and lawyers, years of exhaustive travel and innumerable interviews and testimony, years of demoralizing setbacks, and—as it turned out—years of his neighbors resenting him for possibly losing jobs with RWE.

The upside? Luciano Lliuya knew that this was an opportunity to bring world notice to the environmental hazard that was endangering all their lives. As he said, “To do nothing would be irresponsible.”

The lawsuit has dragged on—a ruling is expected in 2023—but just allowing the case meant that a court accepted the idea that major emitters of greenhouse gas, such as RWE, might be held liable for the consequences of global warming. It was a key precedent — people in similar circumstances around the world could also sue. Over 2,000 suits have followed Lliuya's, and more than half have led to positive climate outcomes.

Luciano Lliuya and other activists have founded an organization called Wayintsik—“our house”—to support educational projects on climate change.

Luciano Lliuya has an important message from the frontlines of the fight to save the environment: “Every day, I see the glaciers melting and the lakes in the mountains growing. For us in the valley, the threat is immense. We cannot simply wait and see what happens. . . . We used to be powerless, but we aren’t anymore. This is about our protection and about justice.”

To keep up with this Giraffe's work, go to the link below!