Photo: Aktion Unterholz (Flickr)

German church criticises clearing of ancient woodland to make way for giant coal mine

The German evangelical church has joined environmental groups in expressing dismay as thousands of police forcibly evict environmental protectors from a 12,000 year old forest in western Germany.

Police began evicting residents of ‘Oaktown’ – a collection of treehouses built to protect the ancient Hambach woodland – last weekend, after mine owner RWE insisted on starting clearing work despite ongoing negotiations about a national coal phase out.

In a press release the German evangelical church said:

“The clearing of the Hambach forest to make way for a coal mine is a fatal sign of climate targets being brought into question”

Environmental groups have also denounced the timing of evictions, having called for a complete moratorium on the mine’s expansion while negotiations continue in Germany’s “coal commission” (Kohlekommission), which is meeting to discuss how quickly the country can phase out the highly polluting fuel source.

The mine’s expansion will involve the clear-cutting of the forest, an important site for protected species and a unique ancient woodland.

Despite this, the destruction of a hundred hectares of forest has been scheduled by power company Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk AG (RWE) over the coming months. This includes the demolition of the Oaktown tree-house settlement built by activists in an attempt to safeguard the woods.


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The local government has allowed this action claiming the ‘houses’ of Oaktown do not meet safety criteria.

An online petition calling on RWE to cancel the clearance and save the forest has already gathered more than 500,000 backers.


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Reports over the weekends that the commission was considering a 2038 phase-out date for coal were dismissed by environmental groups, who said that such a date was never discussed as part of the commission, where they are also represented.

BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) said it was necessary to strive for a coal phase-out that “earned its name”, while Kai Niebert, President of DNR, the umbrella group of nearly 90 NGOs with around 10 million members, explained:

“If Germany wants to translate its scientifically-based climate protection commitments into reality, coal power must halve by 2020. By 2030 the coal phase out must be completed. We are not talking about abstract target dates but real emissions budgets.”

If ever extracted, the Hambach coal would supply RWE’s giant Neurath and Niederaußem coal-fired power plants, which are both among the ‘Toxic 30’ most harmful plants in terms of their impact on health, according to Europe Beyond Coal.

Experts agree that RWE’s plan to run these two plants well into the 2030s is incompatible Germany meeting it Paris Climate Agreement commitments.

The Hambach mine has been controversial since the 1970s, when the forest failed to receive Special Protected Area (SPA) status, despite meeting all criteria. Then, again despite meeting all required criteria, the Hambach forest was denied Natura 2000 status in 1992.

Further demonstrations against the clearance are planned, with BUND, Campact, Greenpeace and NaturFreunde calling for people to join their march to save the Hambach forest on 6 October.

Gemma Bowcock contributed to this report.