Climate Activists Fight to Save German Village From Coal Mine
The Garzweiler opencast mine in Western Germany is in the process of expanding into the village of Lützerath to access more lignite coal in the midst of an ongoing energy crisis. But environmental campaigners have set up tree sits and barricades to stop the expansion, despite calls from police to evacuate this week.
“If they dig for this coal, they’re taking down climate goals, they’re throwing the Paris agreement in the bin,” protester Dina Hamid said, as BBC News reported. “People are dying now from the climate crisis. If we want to save lives, if we don’t want this to keep happening, we need to save every bit of coal, every bit of fossil fuel in the ground.”
The struggle over Lützerath’s fate is not new. The village has long been in the sights of RWE, the energy company that owns the existing mine, which currently covers 35 square kilometers (approximately 13.5 miles) and produces 25 million tonnes of coal annually. Protestors began setting up camp in 2020, when Lützerath farmer Eckardt Heukamp gave them permission to use his fields, as Innovation Origins reported. Environmentalists have sued to protect the village multiple times, but the courts have consistently sided with RWE. The German government under Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also signed an agreement with RWE sacrificing Lützerath, but stopping it from swallowing five other villages and committing it to phasing out coal power in western Germany by 2030 instead of 2038, as AFP reported. The homes in Lützerath have been abandoned and the land is now the property of the company, BBC News noted.
“RWE has a right to the brown coal lying underneath Lützerath. We have to accept that as a rule of law,” Tim Achteryer, co-chair of North Rhine-Westphalia (NWR)–the German state where the mine and village are located–told German newspaper the Tagesspiegel, as Innovation Origins reported.
Tensions are bound to come to a head this week, however, as police announced Monday they would begin to clear the village as early as Wednesday. Regional authorities further said they wanted to send 10 to 15 units of around 100 police officers to evict the activists, as AFP reported.
“It’s going to be a very exciting week around here,” Dirk Jansen, the managing director of BUND NRW–the NRW Friends of the Earth branch–told Innovation Origins.
The fight for Lützerath has gained urgency as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left Germany scrambling for fuel, leading it to sacrifice some of its climate goals to resuscitate previously retired coal plants, as AFP noted. While the country got record amounts of energy from renewables in 2022, it fell short of its targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Environmentalists still believe the country could be doing more to mitigate the climate crisis, and disagree that Lützerath is an acceptable loss. Around 2,000 people attended a demonstration in the village on Sunday, and another is planned for January 14, AFP reported.
“We’re expecting thousands of people,” Jansen told Innovation Origins. “We are really busy creating momentum. This sparks a discussion about climate change and the phasing out of coal and the role of Die Grünen (The Greens) within the German government. A lot of people feel they are not doing enough.”
The Green party in Germany is part of the coalition government behind the deal with RWE, BBC News explained.