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article imageOp-Ed: German court rules in favor of destroying forest for coal mine

By Karen Graham     Nov 24, 2017 in World
On Friday, Cologne, Germany's administrative court ruled in favor of energy company RWE, saying an ancient forest near the Belgian border can be chopped down to allow for expansion of a lignite coal strip mine.
RWE is Germany's biggest electricity provider. It also operates an open-pit lignite coal mine on the site of the ancient Hambach Forest which was purchased by RWE in 1978. At 33 square miles, the coal mine is the largest in Europe and also the deepest open pit mine with respect to sea level on the Earth's surface. The bottom of the pit is 299 meters (981 feet) below sea level.
Today, the 12,000-year-old Hambach forest, located in North Rhine-Westphalia, western Germany is a shadow of its former self - Only 10 percent of it remains intact. The forest is home to 142 species regarded as important to conservation, including the nearly extinct Bechstein bat.
Hambach surface mine (grey) and remaining Hambach Forest adjacent (above to the left)  as of Novembe...
Hambach surface mine (grey) and remaining Hambach Forest adjacent (above to the left) as of November 16, 2017.
Anna Frodesiak
Lignite coal is Europe's biggest polluter
Friday's ruling was a blow to the environmental group BUND that wanted to halt the clearance of much of the Hambach forest. BUND plans on appealing the decision and is seeking an injunction to stop the energy company from clearing the trees. And all this is going on as Germany touts its plan to move towards phasing coal out.
Almost 40 percent of German electrical production comes from coal-fired power plants, and slightly over one-fourth comes from brown coal or lignite, making German coal-fired power plants Europe's biggest polluter, spewing out more than 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from the European Union, according to Eurostat.
Total greenhouse gas emissions by countries (including international aviation and indirect CO2  excl...
Total greenhouse gas emissions by countries (including international aviation and indirect CO2, excluding LULUCF), 1990 - 2015 (million tonnes of CO2 equivalents).
Eurostat
"We need lignite. Lignite is not subsidized and we have a good supply in Germany. It makes us less dependent on imported natural gas, oil or other fossil fuels," Guido Steffen, a representative for RWE, told CNN.
"Conventional energy is still needed for a country that is as industrialized and as populated as Germany. You need a lot of energy, and renewables are just not yet ready to fully supply the country." In the meantime, Steffen says logging of Hambach's woodlands will continue.
An echolocating Bechstein s bat (Myotis bechsteinii) avoiding collision with a plant while searching...
An echolocating Bechstein's bat (Myotis bechsteinii) avoiding collision with a plant while searching for a moth.
Dietmar Nill
It is time for Germany to shut down coal mining
According to Deutsche Welle, while RWE is allowed to extract coal from Hambach Forest until 2040, electricity production using lignite isn't really profitable anymore. And ever since the renewable energy boom began, RWE has been in crisis mode. As of November 2016, RWE was struggling with debt, owing creditors 27.4 billion euros.
Until the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan in 2011, Germany had relied on nuclear power for electricity generation. After that incident, Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to shut down Germany's nuclear plants by 2020. This move left lignite coal-fueled power plants as a main source of energy.
Hambach Forest Clearcut area with RWE s Lignite Coal mine and its diggers in the background.
Hambach Forest Clearcut area with RWE's Lignite Coal mine and its diggers in the background.
Hambinfo
And while Germany has hoped to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 2020, that number is more likely to fall to little more than 30 percent, according to the Environmental Ministry. "Phasing out nuclear power and coal at the same time does present major challenges," Armin Laschet, the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, told attendees at the COP23 climate change conference in Bonn.
Laschet still remains optimistic, saying, "Mining in Germany could end inside the next two decades. We don't have an end date. But the expectation is it could be in the 2030s."
This last comment struck a cord - And begs the question - Why then has a German court allowed RWE to expand its open-pit lignite coal mining operation into an untouched small percentage of what is left of Hambach forest?
The company is already in an unprofitable situation because of falling coal prices in the market. They are in the same boat as other coal companies around the world, simply because coal is being phased out, and that ship is sinking.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Hambach forest, lignite coal, Germany, COP23 summit, Environment
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