All posts tagged: Coal


Losing Lützerath: To save Germany, the occupied village must be destroyed

By the time you read this, the village of Lützerath may already be gone – part of the price paid for getting RWE, Germany’s largest energy producer, to stop mining and burning brown coal by 2030. Yet short term, RWE is ramping generation at their lignite-burning plants, among the most polluting in Europe, to make up for sanctioned Russian gas and help Germany get through the next two winters. But climate scientists warn, burning all the coal underneath the activist-occupied town could risk breaking the emissions limits set under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Worse, as lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum relates, the steep terms of the deal are splintering the Greens, potentially setting party leadership against its most ardent climate activists.

2030 coal exit condemns Lützerath

 To harvest the vast amounts of brown coal lying under the fertile plains west of Cologne, some of the world’s largest excavators for decades have chewed through some of Germany’s most fertile farmland, in the process demolishing nearly 50 villages and displacing over 40,000 residents.

But perhaps no more.

As part of an October 2022 deal between the German federal government, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and RWE to bring the energy firm’s coal phase-out forward by eight years to 2030, only one more village must be destroyed for coal: Lützerath.

In exchange for saving five other similarly-threatened towns, the deal authorizes RWE to increase mining through March 2024 to help Germany weather the current energy crisis.

And while RWE will supposedly decrease their coal burns starting in April 2024, some estimates find that the emissions generated from burning all this additional coal, some 560 million tons of it, will exceed the limits Germany agreed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement, potentially putting the 1.5 degree limit out of reach.

Nevertheless, at the press conference announcing the agreement, both federal Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck and his colleague Mona Neubaur, NRW’s Green minister for Economy and Climate Protection, were clear that the town’s fate is sealed.

“If Lützerath were to be preserved,” explained Neubaur in a statement echoing RWE’s, “then the production volume required to maintain security of supply over the next eight years could not be achieved, the stability of the opencast mine could not be guaranteed and the necessary recultivation could not be carried out.”

New Hambach

As the coal excavators churn closer by the minute, the tiny farming village of Lützerath is the front line of climate defense.

For several years, thousands of activists, including Greta Thunberg, have flocked to it from every corner of the globe, attending “resistance” workshops, conferences, concerts, vegan group dinners and thumping, nightlong raves.

Their ranks stiffened by veterans of the campaign to save the nearby Hambach Forest, occupiers have planted gardens, moved into abandoned homes, lived in tents, built huts and erected sophisticated treehouses.

Barns throughout the town have been transformed into community centers. Slogans of shared environmental justice, from Antifa and Rojava, the embattled autonomous Kurdish region in northeastern Syria, adorn their walls — reminders that the climate justice movement didn’t emerge with Fridays for Future, but has deeper roots within the long struggles of activists in the Global South as well as generations of black, indigenous and people of color (BIPoC) still fighting for freedom and equality.

But above all else, occupiers have organized and prepared for the village’s eventual defense against RWE-backed police forces.

Resistance crops

Though many have visited and overnighted at the village, to date massive demonstrations like those at the Hambach forest haven’t materialized.

“If there were 50,000 on the street, politicians would have to do something,” said Eckardt Heukamp, the last farmer in Lützerath, to reporters from the New York Times.

Perhaps the frustrating reality is that two years ago it was politically easier for leaders of the then-opposition Greens to support rallies for the Hambach forest, or last year, from occupied Lützerath. Back then, even Mona Neubaur, seeking votes, once marched to preserve it.

Since then, often with support from the climate movement, the Greens have notched their best-ever showings in state and national elections.

Ascendant both nationally and in NRW, once the Greens entered into a coalition with the conservative CDU in June 2022 and together agreed to phase out coal by 2030, there seemed reason to hope Lützerath might survive after all.

Stubbornly refusing to sell out to RWE, in an act of resistance, Heukamp planted crops.

But in October 2022, after the harvest was in, he finally gave up — abandoning the family farm to the activists.

Blaming state politicians, he said: “If they had wanted to save this village, they could have done it.”

For scientist-activist Saskia Meyer, who has lived in the village for months, Lützerath is symbolic of much of what is wrong in our society.

“What’s happening today to the planet is a symptom of our western consumption behavior and habits,” she said.

Reul-ality

NRW’s state government, including its Minister of the Interior, Herbert Reul, who oversaw brutal police measures to clear the occupied Hambach Forest that lead to the death of a journalist as well as injuries to thousands many others, is preparing for a difficult and potentially violent eviction.

Throughout the weeks of November and December and leading up to mid-January, defense preparations were in full swing throughout the town with intricate barricades and steel beams already erected and more going up.

Some politicians have also come out in support.

One, German MEP Kathrin Henneberger, who I ran into at the occupied village, vowed that when RWE and the police come, she’s prepared to put her body on the line to stop them.

Clearing begins

As of mid-January, thousands of police officers had begun evicting occupiers days after 7,000 or more came to the embattled town for a concert and demonstration.

Media reports show that both police officers and town defenders were engaging in violent behavior.

Some climate scientists are calling for a cooling off period to re-assess the necessity of mining the coal underneath the town.

Given the fluidity of the situation, by the time you are reading this story, the town will either have been cleared of activists, many of whom could be in jail or being held, or a political compromise will have been found.

Pyrrhic coal exit: Germany’s bad bargain with energy colossus RWE

Heralded as a “courageous step for climate protection,” Germany’s government has in 2022 reached a compromise with RWE, Europe’s most polluting energy firm, to stop mining and burning its filthy brown coal by 2030 – a full eight years ahead of previous plans. But the deal, negotiated by several Green-Party led ministries, also authorizes RWE to keep several units at one of the world’s most toxic power plants to stay longer on the grid, at least through 2025, instead of closing at year’s end. And despite cheers that the new agreement will keep 280 million tonnes of carbon in the ground, scientists fear the heaps of lignite now set to be burned will prevent Germany from meeting emissions limits set under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum reviews the controversial decision.

Read More

RWE transformed: Germany’s biggest energy producer, and one of the world’s dirtiest, leaps into renewables

Founded in 1898 in the industrial city of Essen, RWE has grown into one of the largest electricity producer in Germany and increasingly in the world. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis has upset plans to immediately reduce RWE’s lignite burn, in mid-October the company finally embraced a total coal phase-out by 2030. The about face comes days after RWE announced a blockbuster deal backed by Qatari’s massive sovereign wealth fund to takeover one of the United States’ biggest renewable energy producers. By the end of October 2022, as lead blogger and podcaster, Michael Buchsbaum, relates, despite RWE running three of the filthiest generating stations in Europe and still being dependent on massive volumes of fossil fuels, the company has become a global clean energy powerhouse.

Read More

A recipe for the cold

The embargo on raw materials from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine exposed weaknesses in the Polish energy system as well as political errors. For many in Poland, this winter will serve as a reminder of communist-era shortages. Michał Olszewski has the details

Read More

Colombia part 2 | The Global Energy Transition Podcast – Season 2, Episode 2

Representing a district near several of Germany’s largest coal mines and lignite-burning power plants, Kathrin Henneberger entered the Bundestag, Germany’s Federal Parliament, on a mandate from Green voters to accelerate the clean energy transition both at home and abroad.

Long involved in the campaign to curtail global coal and fossil fuel production as well as human rights, during the summer of 2022, Henneberger traveled to Colombia, visited with front line coal, oil and gas communities and began forging a new intergovernmental climate alliance.

But with her own country struggling to phase out coal, her constituents living near the edges of Germany’s still expanding open pit mines, and the energy crisis continuing to impact us all, instead of being able to make immediate progress, Henneberger has been fighting something of a rear-guard action to at least maintain the environmental and climate gains already in place a year ago.

In this podcast, Henneberger discusses why she traveled to Colombia, what she experienced while there and shares her insights with lead blogger and podcaster, Michael Buchsbaum.

The episode can be played below and also on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

For more on Colombia’s energy transition, listeners should check out the preceding podcast with Deutsche Welle correspondent, Judit Alonso as well as lead blogger, Michael Buchsbaum’s seven-part Colombian Conundrum series:

Greening Speed: IEA says Russia’s war in Ukraine accelerating global shift to clean energy

In the wake of Russia’s February invasion and skyrocketing prices, to ensure energy security and affordability, nations worldwide are installing record levels of solar and wind capacity. Now, for the first time ever, in their annual World Energy Outlook the International Energy Agency (IEA) is predicting fossil fuel demand will peak near-term as non-emitting sources begin producing the majority of global power by 2030. Moreover, following sustained market turbulence on top of its proven climate impacts, the IEA no longer backs “natural” fossil gas a reliable transition fuel. Also, building upon Egypt’s COP27, several wealthy nations and investment agencies are banding together to assist top-ten emissions producer, Indonesia, as well as several other developing countries to accelerate their shifts from coal to clean. Lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum helps us navigate through the rapid changes.

Read More

Colombian Conundrum: Resetting development relationships with Germany and the world

Led by reformer Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s new leftist government, the first in its long history, aims to both reduce its dependence on fossil fuel exports and achieve 100% clean electricity by 2032 while creating peace and creating economic prosperity. But to ensure these aims can justly be reached, Petro’s administration will need assistance, particularly from Germany. Its fifth largest trading partner and biggest in the EU, new treaty obligations to protect indigenous rights and control supply chains may force Germany to re-evaluate its still extractivist behavior. In the final piece in the series, Lead blogger and podcaster, Michael Buchsbaum reviews several of the necessary changes required of the German companies still profiting off the mining and burning of Colombian blood coal.

Read More

Colombian Conundrum: Banning Russian fossil fuels ups global demand for blood coal

Responding to sanctions leveled on Russia following its February invasion of Ukraine, Moscow throttled deliveries of its fossil gas to the European Union. Desperate to keep the lights on, regulators and power producers returned to coal. But with Russia mining almost 70% of EU imports, burners needed other suppliers. Despite widely acknowledged human rights abuses there, in early April, German Chancellor Scholz personally called president Iván Duque to request that Colombian miners ramp up production and exports to Europe. However in elections this summer Colombians voters swept in the nation’s first ever leftist government. The second in a series on this Latin American nation, lead blogger and podcaster, Michael Buchsbaum briefly reviews its struggles with coal and the situation Gustavo Petro’s environmentally focused administration faces.

Read More

Colombia part 1 | The Global Energy Transition Podcast – Season 2, Episode 1

Aftershocks from Russia’s war against Ukraine continue rippling around the world, including to the deserts and jungles of Colombia. Producing increasing volumes of oil and fossil gas, this Andean country is also one of the world’s largest coal exporters.

Long rocked by violence, civil war as well as government and industry-linked terrorism, prior to Russia’s invasion European buyers had been curtailing fossil fuel and “blood coal” imports from Colombia due to linkages with human rights violations. But faced with its own energy crisis, following a personal call in April from German chancellor Olaf Scholz to Colombia’s then President Ivan Duque, more coal than ever is sailing from Latin America to European ports.

But then two months later, voters elected the nation’s first ever left-green government into power. Campaigning on a platform to accelerate their clean energy transition, ban fracking, and restrict coal mining, the economist and former Bogotá mayor and former guerilla fighter Gustavo Pedro has now assumed power.

To help us unpack how we got here and what to expect next from both Colombia, Germany and the European Union, in this episode, podcast host and lead blogger, Michael Buchsbaum, interviews Latin American expert and Deutsche Welle reporter and correspondent, Judit Alonso.

Shownotes:

Click here for background information on links between Colombia’s civil war and coal and fossil fuel extraction.

Click here to read more about Scholz’ phone call to Duque.

Click here to read stories and see images of how mining and development is impacting Colombia’s Wayuu indigenous people.

Click here to read more about the new government’s tax reform plans.

You can play the episode below, and it’s also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Audio from the podcast was mixed and edited by audio expert Christian Kreymborg.

 

Colombian Conundrum: Global demand for its fossil fuels face pleas for reform

A year ago, production of Colombian “blood coal” was falling, the future of the massive El Cerrejon mine was uncertain, and a growing list of nations were banning it’s import. But following Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and a personal call by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the nation’s then president, Ivan Duque, today Colombia’s miners are expanding their operations, shipping increasing volumes to the European Union and enjoying record profits. But recently elected reform-minded President Gustavo Petro and Goldman Environmental Prize-winning vice-president Francia Marquez aim to address land redistribution, a shift to renewables and an end to fossil fuel production. Still reeling from decades of civil war, mired in energy poverty and international debt, lead blogger and podcaster Michael Buchsbaum begins a series reviewing Colombia’s energy conundrum.

Read More