Hambach Forest in Germany's Rhineland is 10,000 years old. But it is under massive threat from German energy giant RWE, which wants to destroy the last remaining part of the forest to mine for coal.
At present, less than a tenth of the forest remains – most of it lost to coal mining. Now RWE plans to clear-cut the remaining 200 hectares of the forest, to expand its open-pit lignite mine. This ancient woodland has hardly been disrupted since it re-forested after the ice age. It is the largest area of oak-hornbeam woodland left in Germany.
The Rhenish lignite mining area is already the largest single source of CO2 in Europe, and the coal mined there is the dirtiest on the planet – a stark example of environmental and climate destruction. Already in 2016, RWE extracted 90 million tons of lignite, 40 million tons of which were from the existing Hambach open-pit mine. Now, with RWE’s expansion plans, the rest of the forest is under grave threat – and with it, the ability of Germany to meet its climate commitments.
The site has become a major site of protest – and has become a totemic symbol of the fight against Germany's failing climate policies, and against big multi-national corporations like RWE.
The forest has been occupied by activists living in different villages of tree houses spread throughout the trees. But police have for the past two weeks been forcibly removing people trying to protect the forest. The order for eviction came from the regional government in Germany. Sadly last week in a tragic accident, a journalist fell from one of the trees and died.
What is particularly concerning is how RWE seems to be attempting to undermine a growing consensus on the urgency of quitting coal. Right now, a coal exit task force (“Coal Commission”), made up of government, industry, trade unions, and NGOs (including BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany), is discussing when and how to phase out this polluting fossil fuel from Germany’s energy mix. However, RWE seems to want to take matters into its own hands.
A phase out for coal as soon as possible - whilst ensuring a Just Transition for coal regions - is critical to meeting global targets to tackle climate change: but RWE could ruin these efforts to protect the climate. BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany has declared that clear-cutting the forest during coal phase-out negations would endanger their participation in the coal commission.
According to RWE, the clear-cutting is necessary to keep their giant power plant running; and it is sufficient to afforest land in the vicinity of the open pit, to make up for the habitats destroyed. But burning coal for electricity is one of the most polluting forms of energy, and Europe needs to be decreasing not expanding our reliance on fossil fuels. Afforesting the nearby land would take decades for these areas to start to resemble a forest – which will never be equal to replacing the unique biodiversity lost. For rare bats living in the area, it will be too late.
BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany is calling on people across Europe to send a clear message to the regional and national ministers responsible. A joint petition with Greenpeace and Campact demands that they: “ensure that RWE does not clear any of the forest, so long as negotiations continue on the coal phase-out. Save the Hambach forest!”
October 6th is being hailed as a day of action. People are being asked to support, from afar or in person, a demonstration called by BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany, Greenpeace, Campact and Nature-Friends Germany - which will take place at 12:00 on Saturday 6th October at Hambach.
The organisers of the demonstration say: “RWE is upping the pressure every day, by forcing the eviction of the tree houses. With the ‘save the forest - stop coal!’ demonstration on 6th October, we demand the preservation of this unique forest and a swift exit from coal. We must not allow any more climate-damaging lignite to be dug up - these are the policies of the past.”
Energy giant RWE wants to clear an ancient forest for a #coal mine. Help us save #HambacherWald and #endcoal now! Tell German decision-makers to act for climate & nature here: https://t.co/Z5NxO57wTa pic.twitter.com/I1etMcJCeA— Friends of the Earth (@FoEint) September 26, 2018