The fate of an uninhabited German village, which will be demolished to expand a nearby coal mine and where climate activists settled months ago in protest, has unleashed an intense political and social debate in Germany, in the midst of an energy emergency stemming from the invasion Ukrainian Russian. After weeks of tension and a recent court ruling, more than 1,500 riot police entered the Rhineland town of Lützerath, in the west of the country, yesterday to evict hundreds of camped-out activists trying to prevent demolition, planned to expand the site. Garzweiler open pit, from which lignite is extracted.
No one lives in the small town – which in 1970 had a hundred inhabitants and in 2021 only eleven – no one lives anymore, after the energy company RWE reached an agreement last year with the regional government of North Rhine-Westphalia for the that it is allowed to demolish the town – whose land and houses RWE now owns – in exchange for bringing forward the goodbye to the use of coal to the year 2030 instead of the expected 2038.
Camping out in abandoned houses and makeshift huts high up in trees, environmental activists argue that expanding the Garzweiler coal mine will further increase greenhouse gas emissions, as lignite is particularly polluting. According to the digital edition of the newspaper Bild yesterday morning, at the start of the police operation, there were 300 activists camped in Lützerath and there were another 250 in the immediate vicinity.
The eviction began after a regional court upheld an earlier ruling authorizing it on Monday, and police dismantled barricades and dragged away protesters on Tuesday. “The area is being fenced off. The people who are in the cordoned area now have the possibility to leave the place without further police measures ”, the police of North Rhine-Westphalia, the land to which the town and the mine belong, warned on Twitter on Wednesday morning.
A few dozen activists decided to leave and were escorted by agents on their way out, but many others chose to continue resisting, perched on trees or suspended from cables, reports Afp from the scene.
The agents were received with stones, fireworks and Molotov cocktails, according to the police, who anticipate that the final evacuation could take days. “It is a big challenge for the police and we need a lot of special forces here to deal with the situation; we have air rescue specialists, we have heavy machinery to deal with the barricades,” police spokesman Andreas Müller said. “All of these are factors that make it difficult to know how long this will last; we calculate that it will continue for at least several days ”, he concluded.
Hundreds of activists had settled in the uninhabited town, which will be demolished to expand a mine.
Lützerath has thus become the epicenter of the debate on climate protection in Germany, now that the energy needs due to the cut off of Russian gas in the framework of the war in Ukraine have forced the tripartite government of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to draw on some coal-fired power plants in reserve and to postpone the blackout of the last nuclear power plants.
For environmentalists, the drink is logical and particularly bitter; the Minister of Economy and Climate, Robert Habeck, himself had to bless such measures, and supports the expansion of the Garzweiler mine. “Lützerath, where no one lives anymore, is in my opinion a wrong symbol,” Habeck said yesterday, in response to those who raise this town to an emblem of non-compliance with climate defense promises.
The evacuation will last days, according to the police; The Greens, in power, support the growth of the deposit
The Greens are also part of the regional government of North Rhine-Westphalia, as junior coalition partners of the Christian Democrat CDU, so accepting the mine expansion is a serious blow to their environmental reputation.
Expanding the Garzweiler mine and extracting more coal from it “is necessary to operate power plants at high capacity in times of energy crisis and thus save gas in the production of electricity in Germany,” the company RWE said yesterday in a statement. “RWE calls on squatters to respect the rule of law and peacefully end the illegal occupation of RWE-owned buildings, plants and sites,” added the company, which announced the construction of a one and a half kilometer fence in length to close the enclosure.
Many activists are willing to continue camping. “People are putting all their efforts, all their lives, into this fight to keep coal underground,” said Dina Hamid, spokeswoman for the Lützerath Lebt (Lützerath Lives) group. “If this coal ends up being burned, our climate goals will be blown away, so with our bodies we are trying to protect the climate goals.”
According to studies, in the subsoil of Lützerath there are 110 million tons of coal. The federal government of Scholz and the company RWE maintain that this coal is necessary to guarantee energy security in Germany. Critics counter that burning so much coal will make it much harder for Germany and the world to limit global warming to 1.5C, as agreed to in the 2015 Paris agreement.