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  • German police enter the Hambach forest.

    German police enter the Hambach forest. | Photo: @jdoeschner

Published 27 January 2018

Environmental activists have occupied the surrounding forest areas of an open-pit coal mine to prevent its expansion since 2012.

Ten German environmentalists were arrested on Thursday when German police conducted a massive eviction operation to clear the construction site of the Hambach coal mine, the largest open-pit mine in Europe.

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The activists have occupied the site in the ancient Hambach forest since 2012 in an attempt to stop the expansion of an open-pit lignite (a brown form of coal considered to be the most polluting fossil fuels) mine near Hambach that stretches across 85 square kilometers and is around 370 meters deep. The mine is managed by German utility company Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE), which generates a yearly revenue of over US$ 60 billion.

According to one activist their actions also aim to “fight global warming, because this region of lignite mining and lignite power plants is the biggest source of CO2 emission in Europe,” one activist told Democracy Now.

Dozens had constructed a treehouse camp in the forest to prevent the lignite mine from expanding any further. Last year, during the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, thousands joined the activists to surround the excavators working at the site but were expelled by the police.  

Occupying land threatened by extractive industries has become a widely applied tool used in by environmental activists to protect the land and the communities that live there. 

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According to The Guardian “despite strong rhetoric that has earned Angela Merkel a reputation as the Klimakanzlerin (climate chancellor), its emissions have not fallen since 2009 [...] because its increased use of wind and solar power has mostly filled the void left by the decommissioning of nuclear reactors.”

The environmental group Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) lost a legal bid to stop the expansion of the lignite mine in November 2017, after the judge of a Cologne Administrative Court ruled that development plans for the Hambach open-pit mine did not breach environmental legislation.

Activists have repeatedly argued that the forest should be declared a protected area because it is home to 140 endangered species. Since RWE started its mining operation in 1978, it has cleared 90 percent of the forest according to some estimates.

Demonstrations against the Hambach mine and the environmental damage it causes date back to 2004.

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