Forest must not be cleared for coal, say green groups

14 November 2012

Friends of the Earth Europe, along with several allies, wrote today to the Chief Executive and President of German power company RWE, to declare their solidarity with activists occupying Hambach Forest in Westphalia and to urge him not to further expand RWE’s mining activities in that area. The letter was delivered personally, interrupting a dinner event being held for coal industry executives as part of European Coal Day.

RWE is currently clearing the Hambach Forest and the protest camp in order to extend its opencast lignite mine nearby, but environmental campaigners have been occupying part of this biodiversity-rich beech forest for about six months in an attempt to protect it.

RWE’s Hambach mine excavating lignite, a type of coal, is currently 33km2, but RWE plans to more-than-double its area to 85km2, which would require felling the Hambach forest. The Hambach mine, along with mines in Inden and Garzweiler, also owned by RWE, emit almost 100 million tonnes of CO2 each year in their adjoined power stations, making them Europe’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Lignite itself emits even more CO2 per unit energy generated than burning standard  ‘hard’ coal, making it one of the most carbon-intensive fuels used.

As well as the inevitable biodiversity loss from the forest’s destruction, Friends of the Earth Europe told RWE that, “leaving this lignite underground is essential to preventing dangerous climate change. Latest science tells us that we have to reverse the trajectory of emissions within the next few years. Otherwise the world faces irreversible impacts including economic, social and environmental loss and damage”.

Also of great concern is the negative impact that the burning of lignite is already having on public health and the environment. The European Environmental Agency calculates that the power station at Niederaußem, which burns most of the lignite extracted in the Hambach opencast mine, causes costs of up to €1.5 billion per year due to environmental and health impacts. This level of damage is only set to increase if mining operations are expanded in Hambach.

Friends of the Earth Europe works to prevent extractive industry like RWE from destroying people's lives, the environment and the climate, believing that resources should be used fairly and sustainably, and that our energy should be produced without inflicting the damage of climate change on people and the planet.