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Coal exit will save Hambach Forest: activists

January 27, 2019

German green groups have welcomed a proposal for Germany to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2038 to curb climate change. They say it's a clear sign the embattled Hambach Forest won't be felled after all.

A sign in Hambach forest saying "Stay Forest Stay!"
Image: Reuters/W. Rattay

Environmental groups voiced general optimism on Saturday after Germany's government-appointed coal commission recommended the country stop using coal-fired energy by 2038.

The proposal, which still needs government approval, aims to help Berlin replace climate change-driving fossil fuels with renewables.

"Germany finally has a timetable for how the country can become coal-free," said Martin Kaiser, head of Greenpeace Germany.

He told Deutschlandfunk radio that although the goal isn't ambitious enough, it indicates at least that Hambach Forest has a secure future.

Fighting coal extraction in Germany

The ancient woodland in western Germany was the scene of anti-coal protests and confrontations between police and activists last year. Dozens of campaigners camped out in the trees for months in an effort to prevent energy company RWE from clearing the forest to expand its lignite mine.

"The protests with tens of thousands of people in the forest and for the forest were a turning point in coal and climate policy in Germany," Kaiser told Deutschlandfunk. "And it is thanks to those people that the forest has been saved."

German nature conservation group NABU was similarly positive about the woodland: "Hambach Forest will no longer be sacrificed for lignite mining," the organization's president, Olaf Tschimpke, said in a statement.

Read moreHow Germany's coal phaseout is becoming an international movement

A map of Hambach forest

Environmental groups push for quicker coal exit

But the text of the commission's recommendation is less concrete, stating only that the body "considers it desirable that the Hambach Forest be preserved."

It also does not specify which coal plants should be shut down first. Those details are to be worked out at a later date between the government and plant operators, according to the German news agency dpa.

Energy company RWE says 2038 is too soon to shut all coal-fired plants. But environmental organizations say it's too late, and are vowing to push for a quicker coal exit. Greenpeace, for example, wants all plants to be shut down by 2030, while others have proposed 2035 as another possibility.

Germany currently generates more than a third of its electricity from burning coal, and its coal plants produce more carbon dioxide than any other nation in Europe.

nm/cmk (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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