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Ellen Baker

18th June 2019

Fossil fuels

Germany – where coal still comes first

It’s home to 69 huge coal plants, with another in the making.

Hundreds of square kilometres of mines occupy the land, still expanding as coal companies continue to feed giant power plants.

People are being bought out of their homes against their will to make way for the bulldozers. Corporations are taking legal action against those who speak out against them.

This isn’t a description from last century – this is happening in 2019, in economic powerhouse Germany.

But isn’t Germany a climate hero?

Germany’s carefully maintained image as a country on top of the climate problem has been subject to some overdue scrutiny in the last year.

The nation scrambled to rid itself of nuclear in the wake of Fukushima, but overlooked its addiction to hazardous coal-burning. Germany is home to roughly a third of the EU’s entire coal fleet.

On the train through North-Rhine Westphalia, you can see plants billowing fumes from the windows.

Environment problems are people problems

Meanwhile, people living in coal’s path are being sacrificed. Little by little, villages are dismantled and their inhabitants relocated until all that remains of the settlements are their GPS marker.

The eviction of campaigners who’d lived for years in treehouses in the Hambach Forest drew international attention, as mining companies held fast to their intention to destroy the ancient woodland.

Historic churches are being torn down, family homes crushed and businesses closed as immense diggers move in.

In villages like Pödelwitz, Muhlrose, Keyenberg, Kuckum and Proschim – and plenty more besides – people threatened with forced eviction are campaigning to stop RWE and other companies stealing their futures. We stand behind them in their fight.

So when will we move beyond coal?

Coal has fast become the most embarrassing stock to hold – banks, insurers and states are dropping coal investments like a hot potato and they want the world to know.

Yet Germany still doesn’t have an official coal phase-out date. Its ‘coal commission’ finally proposed a compromise end-date of 2038, but the government still hasn’t adopted it. And that means coal companies are gearing up for continued mining and continued burning.

Villages are still in jeopardy; air, water and wildlife are still at risk; and the climate will continue to suffer as the immense carbon burden of these power plants contributes to global climate breakdown.

Germany can do better.

What are ClientEarth’s lawyers doing to transform the system?

Across Europe, we’re holding to account coal companies and the authorities who allow their polluting activities. We take court cases against operators and governments where we need to – and we support communities being broken up by the coal industry to defend themselves.

We’re challenging coal across Europe including in Bulgaria, Romania, Spain, Greece and Poland. Now we are bringing our expertise to Germany.

We’ve teamed up with Greenpeace Germany to draft a phase-out law which will give communities in coal regions certainty of the timetable for shutting Germany’s coal plants. This was published in April.

We’ll keep pushing for a commitment to move the country beyond coal. Coal has a stranglehold on Germany which must be broken.