It’s a stark image in 2023: police in riot gear flood a village, pulling people out of homes and demolishing structures to make way for the arrival of digging machinery to access the rich seam of coal beneath. ground.
Since Wednesday, as rain and winds battered the small West German village of Lützerath, police have evicted hundreds of activists. Some have been in Lützerath for more than two years, occupying homes abandoned by former residents after they were evicted, most in 2017, to make way for the mine.
More than 1,000 police officers are involved in the eviction operation. Most buildings have now been cleared, but some activists remained in treehouses or huddled in a hole dug in the ground on Friday, according to Aachen city police.
Protest organizers expect thousands more to flock to the area on Saturday to demonstrate against its destruction, although they will ultimately be unable to gain access to the village. Once the eviction is complete, RWE plans to complete a 1.5 kilometer perimeter fence to wind around Lützerath, sealing off the village’s buildings, streets and sewers before they are demolished.
Yet activists vow to keep fighting for the village.
“We are taking action against this destruction by putting our bodies in the way of the digger,” said Ronni Zeppelin, of the campaign group Lützerath Lebt (Lützerath Lives).
Lützerath, about 20 miles west of Düsseldorf, has long been a climate hotspot in Germany due to its position on the edge of the opencast lignite coal mine, Garzweiler II.
The mine covers around 14 square miles (35 square kilometers) in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) – a huge jagged gouge in the landscape.
Its slow outward slide over the years has already swallowed villages where families have lived for generations. He caused the destruction of century-old buildings and even a wind farm.
RWE has long planned to expand the mine further, in the face of criticism from climate groups. Lignite is the most polluting form of coal, which is itself the most polluting fossil fuel.
As early as 2013, German courts ruled that the company was able to grow, even at the expense of neighboring villages.
Following the Greens’ successes in the 2021 federal election, some hoped the expansion would be undone, said David Dresen, a member of the climate group Aller Dörfer bleiben (All villages remain), who lives in Kuckum, a village that was set to be destroyed. . .
But in October 2022 the government reached an agreement with RWE which saved several villages – including Kuckum – but allowed the demolition of Lützerath to give RWE access to the coal below.
In return, RWE agreed to bring forward its coal phase-out from 2038 to 2030.
The Greens present it as a victory.
“We were able to save five villages and three farms from destruction, spare 500 people from forced relocation and bring the coal shutdown forward by eight years,” said Martin Lechtape, spokesman for the Green Party of North Rhine-Westphalia. , in a press release. email to CNN.
The Greens and RWE also say the expansion will help ease the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, which has cut gas supplies.
This “is not a revival of lignite or coal, but only a side step – to help Germany deal with the energy crisis,” RWE spokesman Guido Steffen told CNN in a E-mail.
Climate groups fiercely oppose the deal. Continuing to burn coal for energy will spew planet-warming emissions and violate the Paris Climate Agreement’s ambition to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Both RWE and the Greens reject the claim that the mine expansion will increase overall emissions, saying EU caps mean the extra carbon emissions can be offset.
Many feel betrayed by the Green Party, including the people who voted for them.
“It’s such an absurd and catastrophic scenario that Germany, the country where everyone thinks we have green [policies]destroyed a village to burn coal amid the climate crisis,” said Dresen, who voted Green in the recent election.
Fabian Huebner, energy and coal campaign manager at Europe Beyond Coal, said: “I think the Greens, faced with some very tough decisions, have taken the wrong direction and deprioritized climate policy.”
Germany should instead accelerate the transition to clean energy, he added, including faster deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures: “You cannot solve the crisis with the source of energy that essentially created this crisis.”
Some studies suggest that Germany may not even need additional coal. An August report from the international research platform Coal Transitions found that even though coal-fired power plants are operating at very high capacity until the end of this decade, they already have more coal than needed from existing supplies. .
It is a deeply uncomfortable time for the Greens and an unfathomable disaster for those who want to save the village.
“The images of Lützerath are of course painful, because we have always fought against the continuous burning of coal,” said Lechtape, on behalf of Greens NRW. “We know the importance of Lützerath as a symbol in the climate movement. However, this should not overshadow what has been achieved,” he added.
The party’s unease could deepen on Saturday when a protest, organized by a coalition of climate groups, is expected to draw thousands to Lützerath – including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“Now it’s up to us to stop the wrecking balls and the coal shovels. We will not facilitate this deportation,” said Pauline Brünger of climate group Fridays for Future.
Even if the village is completely evicted by Saturday and access is blocked, climate groups say the protest will continue.
Dina Hamid, a recently expelled activist from Lützerath Lebt, told CNN: “At the end of the day it’s not about the village, it’s about the coal that remains in the ground and we will fight for that too. as long as it takes.”