Lützerath, Dusseldorf With flags and drums, the demonstrators lead the protest march from Keyenberg in North Rhine-Westphalia in the direction of Lützerath. On Saturday afternoon, thousands of them ran along the country road to a meeting place not far from the demolition edge of the Garzweiler opencast lignite mine.
The 20-year-old Swede arrived on Friday and visited the protest camp in Lützerath. “Lützerath is still there, and as long as the coal is still in the ground, this fight is not over,” said Thunberg on Saturday.
People have come to Lützerath from all over Germany. They want to show solidarity and fight for the preservation of the village. The retired engine driver Ben Grendel has traveled from the Eifel. For months he has been in Lützerath and demonstrated almost every weekend.
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Michael Schwarz from the “All Villages Remain” initiative has also been on site regularly for months. He lives in the camp in Keyenberg several days a week. He says that many in the movement are massively disappointed in the Greens’ policies. “Many have broken with the party,” says Schwarz.
Several climate organizations, including Fridays for Future and “All Villages Remain”, had invited to the large demo. The organizers speak of 35,000 demonstrators. According to the Aachen police, around 10,000 people have arrived.
Because demonstrators tried to get to the demolition edge of the opencast mine, the police pushed some of them back by force. This was confirmed by a spokesman for the authority of the dpa news agency. Walking to the edge of the mine is life-threatening because the ground has softened due to constant rain and there is a risk of landslides. Several activists needed medical attention. Greta Thunberg criticized the massive action taken by the police.
On the other hand, patrol cars were attacked and pyrotechnics were thrown from the other side. Some activists are also trying to get into the cordoned-off town of Lützerath, but according to police statements they have not been able to do so so far.
Protests have been going on for years
Climate activists have been occupying the small village for over two years. It is the last place to give way to lignite mining. Last Wednesday, the police officially began clearing the symbolic hamlet.
The officials managed to get tree houses, entire blockade structures and brick walls out of the way. The activists were taken away with lifting platforms and special forces. But a few will still hold the fort on Saturday. Several of them have even dug themselves into a tunnel below Lützerath.
Climate activists in the tunnel complicate the evacuation in Lützerath
“The forces are proceeding very carefully, no heavy equipment can be used here because that would endanger the people in the underground soil structures,” said Aachen police chief Dirk Weinspach.
At the same time, the energy company and opencast mine operator RWE has been having trees cut down and houses demolished since Thursday morning. A fence that the Essen-based company has put up in the meantime is intended to prevent new protesters from entering the site.
Instead, they now demonstrate daily outside the encircled area. For them it is incomprehensible that Lützerath should be dredged away, although the 1.5 degree target is already difficult to achieve. “If RWE has its way, so much coal will be pulled out of the ground here that we can hang up on Germany’s climate goals,” writes the German face of the Fridays for Future movement, Luisa Neubauer, in a post Instagram.
There is indeed disagreement as to whether the lignite under Lützerath is necessary to ensure Germany’s security of supply. The black-green state government of North Rhine-Westphalia and the energy company RWE refer to reports commissioned by RWE and describe the development of the area and the mining of the underlying coal as the only alternative for Germany’s energy security. The activists point to studies such as those by the energy analysis company Aurora Energy Research on behalf of the group Europe Beyond Coal, which come to the opposite conclusion.
Economist Kemfert: “Coal under Lützerath is not needed”
It was only at the end of last year that RWE and the state government in North Rhine-Westphalia agreed to bring the phase-out of coal forward by a total of eight years to 2030. In return, RWE is allowed to produce larger amounts of lignite in the short term. All other villages in the region, which were originally also supposed to give way to open-cast mining, will remain standing.
Economics Minister Robert Habeck defended the controversial agreement just a few days ago: “It’s the right decision, it’s a good decision for climate protection.”
However, it is disputed whether the early phase-out of coal will save emissions overall. With the legally planned increase in the price of CO2, most experts assume that generating electricity from coal would no longer have been worthwhile after 2030 anyway. This is also a criticism of the demonstrators on Saturday.
Celebrities are calling for the evacuation to stop immediately
The demonstrators are also getting more and more support from outside for their project. In an open letter to the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia and members of the federal government, more than 200 celebrities called for “an immediate stop to the clearance work,” quoted Der Spiegel. The signatories include the actors Katja Riemann, Peter Lohmeyer and Robert Stadlober, the bands Sportfreunde Stiller, Deichkind and Revolverheld, and the pianist Igor Levit.
>> Read here: “The right argument in the wrong place” – Lützerath puts the Greens in need of explanation
The organization of the Scientists for Future is also calling for a moratorium on Lützerath. There are substantial scientific doubts about the urgent need for an evacuation. “Several scientific reports have come to the conclusion that the mining of lignite under Lützerath is not necessary for technical security of supply and grid stability, but is politically determined,” the scientists write on their website.
Lützerath: Demonstrators feel like winners
The coal is needed “in order to operate the lignite fleet at high capacity during the energy crisis and thus save gas in power generation in Germany. At the same time, sufficient material is required for high-quality recultivation,” emphasizes RWE.
Either way, according to some experts, it is important that the upper limits of the European CO2 emissions trading system are adhered to. “As long as the upper limit for the emission of greenhouse gases remains really tough and falls, and the CO2 price has an effect, we can temporarily burn more coal – because this leads to savings in emissions elsewhere,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam -Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
“I’m frustrated and angry about what’s happening in Lützerath,” says pensioner Grendel. Many are like him. Again and again the stage calls for storming Lützerath: “Off to Lützerath! Off to Lützerath!”
As the rain continues to pelt the fields, the crowd stands firm. The demonstrators are determined to send a signal to politicians. Just a stone’s throw away from the opencast mine.
More: Barricades and sirens – this is how the police cleared the Lützerath protest camp