Germany: why is the village of Lützerath becoming a symbol of political inaction on the climate?

For several days, the German government has been trying to evict environmental protesters from the German village of Lützerath. Threatened by coal mine expansion, it speaks to the political challenges of engaging in environmental transition.

This is a lost lignite pit in western Germany. The small village of Lützerath has been in the news for several days. Reason ? Several thousand environmental activists have gathered there to protest the expansion of the coal mine, which will lead to the demolition of the town, which has been deserted by its residents.

Last week, the police gathered around the city to chase away the demonstrators. But the latter, who are numerous and organized, are trying to block this project of expansion.

With climate change becoming a major cause, we can see through this news that public authorities are struggling to initiate urgent policies in favor of the environment.

What are we talking about?

In reality, the story takes place in July 2020. Later, around 200 activists protested against the destruction of the city of Lützerat in Rhineland-Palatinate, less than 150 kilometers from the French border.

Indeed, the government gave the German energy company RWE (Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk or Rhineland-Palatinate Power Plants Company) permission to expand Garzeilwer II, an open-pit coal mine.

This space is also located a few hundred meters away from the houses. But after the expansion project was announced, local residents left their homes, leaving climate protection associations to take over the buildings.

However, RWE is within its rights. The village is almost entirely owned by him, and an agreement has been signed with the German government to permit the project. That would mean the company would have to shut down its coal-fired power plants by 2030, rather than 2038, but would be allowed to expand operations until then.

Why does Germany insist?

He will not be able to escape from anyone, the geopolitical context in Europe has been extremely tense for nearly a year with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. After massive support from Western countries, Moscow stopped gas exports. The problem is that 55% of the gas consumed in Germany comes from Russia, as we know that gas and oil also make up 38% of Germany’s energy mix.

After that, Chancellor Olaf Scholz had to find several urgent alternatives to avoid another power cut for the following winter. With a nuclear deficit and intermittent renewables, only one possible solution: increase the share of coal, including lignite mined near Lützerath.

“To reduce gas consumption, it is necessary to use less gas to generate electricity. Instead, more coal-fired power plants will have to be used,” the Ministry of Economy said in a June 2022 press release.

Although these plants are due to cease operation by 2030, their use has increased by 13.3% in a year to cope with the shortage of Russian gas. According to Destatis, the National Statistics Office, coal currently accounts for 36.3% of Germany’s electricity.

Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck recalled that it was a “painful but necessary” choice. For its part, RWE emphasized that the use of coal is “necessary to operate power plants at high capacity during an energy crisis and thereby save gas in electricity generation in Germany.”

What are the demands of the fighters?

But the environmental associations, which do not have the same productive vision as the German state, decided to make Lützerath a meeting point. Although RWE intends to start demolition work, more than 2,000 activists gathered in abandoned houses or tree houses last week.

On Wednesday, January 11, the police slowly evacuated the village until only 200 people remained. But this Saturday, Greta Thunberg went there to support the movement. Thus, more than 35,000 activists (according to the organizers) turned against the police. Later, there was a clash with injured demonstrators.

“It is a shame that the German government makes deals and concessions with companies like RWE. Lützerath’s coal must stay in the ground”, the Swedish activist started from the platform.

According to activists, the use of coal and lignite would be a disaster for the environment and would aggravate global warming. Although the world’s countries have agreed to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the average increase in temperature to 1.5°C, the activities of Garzeilwar II will go against this goal.

German police told AFP that the evacuation could take several weeks. The conflict between RWE and the “zadists” will have the opportunity to continue, angering the German government.

According to pessimistic projections of the IPCC’s latest report, published in April 2022, global warming could reach +3.2°C if governments do not implement urgent solutions to limit their emissions.

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