A report earlier this year from the government-appointed German Coal Commission marks a great victory in the struggle to rescue the planet from the threat of human-induced climate change. The 28-member panel included scientists, environmentalists, representatives of coal mining regions, and impacted companies.
The Coal Commission’s far-seeing recommendations are typical of the strengths of post-war Germany. This has been its ability to pull ahead of the rest of the world through consensual processes in areas of environmental sustainability. Greenpeace has expressed relief that “Germany finally has a timetable for the country to be coal-free,” while challenging the slow rate of the phase-out, urging that the deadline be set for 2030 and instead of 2038.
Coal provides a third of Germany’s electrical power, and is one of the country’s biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The phase-out plan will bring billions in aid to coal mining regions, industries, and electrical consumers, and will create an estimated 5,000 jobs. A secondary objective is to modernize the country’s inefficient electrical distribution system.
The Coal Commission’s decision resembles the country’s earlier actions to eliminate nuclear power as a source of electrical generation. Both were sparked by massive protests.While Ontario, at the urging of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, closed down coal burning plants, the province is still rejecting its advocacy of a nuclear phase-out.
In the case of the new planned coal phase out, what triggered the end was the threat to the Hambach Forest (about 50 km west of Cologne, in North Rhine-Westphalia state) from the expansion of an open-pit lignite mine. The forest is a 500-acre old-growth, largely oak, woodland.
The Hambach Forest is a refuge for the endangered Bechstein bat. It roosts in holes created by woodpeckers in the forests’ old oaks. The Coal Commission announced that the forest will be protected from further coal mining.
For the past six years the forest has been the scene of an occupation based on 86 tree houses, forming the community of Beechtown. The slogan rallying supporters has been “Save the Forest-Stop Coal.” In September 2018, police destroyed Beechtown. This action reinvigorated protests, resulting in a march of 50,000 people through the Hambach Forest.
The dramatic occupation of the Hambach Forest spearheaded Germany’s long overdue schedule for a coal phase out and shows how forest protection worldwide is leading efforts to build a durable democratic and green peace.
John Bacher is a writer and activist on environmental issues, based in St Catharines, ON.
Protesters built and occupied treehouses in “Beechtown,” in north-western Germany’s Hambach forest, prior to their removal by police in September 2018.