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Anti-coal protests in Germany's Hambach Forest

September 23, 2018

Renewed protests against the expansion of a lignite mine have taken place in an ancient spot of German woodland. But bad weather and police restraints put a dampener on the demonstration.

Despite the rain, thousands turned out for the Hambach forest protest
Image: Reuters/W. Rattay

Thousands of anti-coal protesters on Sunday gathered in cold, rainy conditions in Hambach Forest, near the western German city of Aachen, to demonstrate against the expansion of an open-cut lignite mine in the area of woodland.

Organizers said some 7,000 attended the protest — 2,000 more than expected — but police have not verified the figure.

DW's Louisa Wright was at the protests and filmed the activists carrying trees through the wood:

A court on Saturday confirmed a ban on the original "woodland walk" planned by organizers, saying it was likely that a number of walkers would break off from the stroll to join activists, leading to a large-scale demonstration that could not be properly secured. Authorities thus allowed only a fixed demonstration at one location.

The forest was bought by German utility RWE decades ago to expand lignite mining. Protests were triggered after the company announced plans to clear the forest further as of fall to make way for mine enlargement.

Read more: Hambach Forest: Battleground for climate action

#DailyDrone: Hambach surface mine

Global stakes?

Activists trying to protect the forest have been living in tree houses there, some for as long as six years. Some two weeks ago, police began taking down some of the around 50 tree houses — citing "fire-safety concerns" — after first removing ground-based structures used by the activists.

The police evictions were suspended last week after a freelance journalist accidentally fell to his death from a bridge suspended between two of the tree houses.

For many people, the Hambach Forest has become a symbol of the struggle between industrial greed and the fight against climate change, with critics of the planned mine extension saying that if the mined lignite is burned, it will make it almost impossible for Germany to meet its commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Read moreParis Agreement: What needs to happen for climate action to succeed? 

Calls for suspension

Activists and some politicians have been calling for a suspension of clearing activities until a panel of experts and politicians, known as the coal commission, has come up with a plan for the country to drop its use of coal for energy in a "socially acceptable" manner.

The chairwoman of the environmentalist Green party, Annalena Baerbock, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency that continuing clearing the forest at the current time was a "deliberate provocation" in view of the commission's deliberations.

"It cannot be that a wood is cleared when in the end this is no longer needed for energy purposes according to the decision by the coal commission," she said.

The company has previously said the coal commission's work did not justify a suspension as it was concerned only "with the medium- and long-term prospects for coal-fired power generation."

Read more: The battle for villages and forests in Germany's coal country

Map showing location of Hambach Forest

High costs of not going ahead

RWE CEO Martin Schmitz said late on Thursday that not going ahead with the clearance would cost his company some €4 billion to €5 billion ($4.7 billion to $5.8 billion).

Schmitz told public broadcaster ZDF that "the assumption that the forest can be saved is an illusion" and that if the forest were not cleared, the existing mine edges would have to be stabilized using huge quantities of rubble, adding that he did not believe this was technically possible at the moment.

Neighboring villages have also already been removed to make way for the mine, and a further one is scheduled for demolition under current clearance plans.

"Hambach Forest Stays!" Germany and the Coal Industry

tj/jlw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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