Climate Change

Coal wins battle against climate action in tiny German village

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Photo: @LuetziTickerEn

Published

January 20, 2023

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Published:

January 20, 2023

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German police have removed activists from the now-deserted village of Lützerath and a climate camp set up there to prevent a lignite mine expansion. One of the young leaders of the global climate movement, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, was briefly detained during a protest, although the police operation, and everything that has transpired in the village in the past week or so, has caused some confusion in the public.

The village of Lützerath has become a symbolic battlefield in the fight between fossil capital and climate activism, according to comments in the German media.

The village in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia had only eight residents in mid-2022, but was later occupied by climate groups and activists opposing the expansion of coal mining in Germany.

Activist Luisa Neubauer says Lützerath has become the epicenter of the global struggle for climate justice, because, in her words, “this is not just about a single village.”

If RWE extracts all the coal in Lützerath, chances will be slim for Germany to stay on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement

If German energy company RWE extracts all the coal in Lützerath, chances will be slim for Germany to stay on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to her.

She notes that analyses have shown Germany doesn’t even need coal to secure energy supply.

The land in Lützerath is already owned by RWE. However, the problem is not the land where the village is located, but the lignite in the soil underneath.

Greta Thunberg was also powerless against police

Last week, the activists were joined by Greta Thunberg. She was briefly detained by police, but was released following an identity check. However, her posing for photographers as she was being taken by police attracted an equal amount of attention.

petros-greta

Photo: @PetrosKokkalis

Be that as it may, the village of Lützerath and the Gerzweiler lignite mine were in the spotlight once again. The media reported that more 70 German police had been injured during the operation to clear up the village, which began last Wednesday.

Since then, over 150 criminal proceedings against activists have been initiated.

Footage shared on social networks showed police officers stuck in mud, prompting witty comments in the German media. Some joked that some of the 70 injured police had actually sprained an ankle.

Lützerath Lebt, the movement that initiated the protest, claims the number of injured activists since the beginning of the removal operation could be in triple digits.

Lützerath – the collateral damage of the government’s compromise with RWE

Over the previous few weeks, a large number of activists from Germany and around Europe flocked to Lützerath, prompted by announcements by German authorities that police would launch an operation to evacuate the camp and the village.

The decision to do so was made in October, when the government reached an agreement, or, more precisely, compromise with RWE, which owns the coal mines.

The agreement envisages shutting down two thermal power plants, with a combined capacity of 3 GW, in 2030, or eight years before 2038, Germany’s proclaimed coal phaseout date.

RWE was granted permits to extract the amount of coal that could release 280 million tons of CO2

On the other hand, RWE was allowed to push back the planned closure of two thermal power plants, totaling 1.2 GW, from 2022 to March 2024.

The company was also granted permission to extract additional quantities of coal, which, if burnt, could potentially release 280 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, according to activists.

The deal sealed the fate of the village and the outcome of the battle.

Lützerath is surrounded on three sides by the Gerzweiler open-pit lignite mine, spanning over 100 square kilometers. RWE expects the demolition of the village to take eight to ten days, while mining could begin as early as this spring.

Also in October, Germany started dismantling a wind farm in the vicinity of the Gerzweiler mine.

Climate efforts clouded by energy crisis

Climate activists insist that coal and fossil fuels must remain underground. This principle was also included in the election platform of Germany’s Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), a party that is now part of the ruling coalition.

Among activists, the village of Lützerath has become a symbolic battlefield in their struggle to put a stop to fossil fuel expansion, and it is also significant for global efforts to prove that Paris Agreement goals are achievable.

Germany, as a leader in progressive climate policies, has in this particular case opted for coal. Despite the government’s long-term plans, the imminent demolition of Lützerath represents a symbolic defeat of climate action.

Amid the energy crisis, the German government has prioritized the security of supply over climate goals

Amid the energy crisis, the German government has prioritized the security of supply over climate goals, pushing the fight against climate change and fossil fuel phaseout to the second place. As if they could wait there for a couple of more years.

Germany is the fourth most responsible country for the climate crisis, and is breaking pledges aimed at meeting the 1.5 °C target, according to Lusia Neubauer.

Emissions from Lützerath will not stay there, but will cause climate effects around the world. The only winner in all this is RWE, the biggest corporate CO2 emitter in Europe, according to her.

The company expects several billion euros of windfall from stepping up coal burning, said Neubauer, adding that RWE will get EUR 2.8 billion in compensation for early coal phaseout plus additional subsidies.

Protests over coal mining are continuing around Germany. At the Inden lignite mine near Aachen, activists managed to stop works by blocking an excavator.

They also blocked a railway line that serves to transport coal to the Neurath thermal power plant, which burns most of the coal extracted in that region of Germany.

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