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Decision on Lützerath: Sacrificed for a promise

2022-10-04T16:26:13.250Z

The government and the energy company RWE want to bring forward the phase-out of coal in NRW - but still dredge up the town of Lützerath. Can the local conflict be resolved without throwing stones and batons?



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At the Garzweiler opencast mine: activists want to defend themselves against the eviction

Photo:

Oliver Tjaden / DER SPIEGEL

How much good news does it take to cover up bad news?

The answer is there on Tuesday morning in Berlin: quite a lot.

At a press conference, Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck, his North Rhine-Westphalian colleague Mona Neubaur (both Green) and RWE boss Markus Krebber try to spread optimism.

You invited to the event at short notice to talk about “energy supply and climate protection”.

Previously, the federal, state and energy companies had been negotiating for weeks about which areas were still needed for opencast coal mining - and thus also about the future of the Lützerath settlement, which is located on the edge of the Garzweiler II opencast mine and had become a political issue.

The three of them actually have a lot to announce behind their consoles: the phase-out of lignite in the Rhenish mining area will be brought forward to 2030, i.e. eight years earlier than originally planned, says Habeck at the beginning.

280 million tons of coal would remain in the ground, the CO2 balance would be significantly improved.

Although Germany now needs more coal in the short term to replace expensive gas, there will be no further resettlement of villages because of this.

In addition, RWE wants to invest more than 50 billion euros worldwide by 2030 to accelerate the energy transition, according to the promise.

Hip, hip, hooray – right?

»Lützerath must be evacuated«

For the upcoming plans, however, the lignite under Lützerath would be needed, says Habeck before he quickly hands over to his party colleague Neubaur.

The state minister from Düsseldorf has the ominous task of explaining the bad news in more detail.

There are "certainly no more difficult times for being a Green in government responsibility," she says with a straight face.

It sounds as if she is asking for leniency for what is to come: "Lützerath has to be cleared and the coal underneath made available," says Neubaur.

Three independent reports came to this conclusion.

It is clear to her that the decision “will not meet with approval everywhere”.

Only: Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, which violates international law, now makes it necessary to mine the coal under the settlement.

In return, the early exit from coal was negotiated.

A »deliberation process«, as Neubaur calls it.

Lützerath, a town south of Mönchengladbach, has been relocated by RWE for opencast mining since 2006.

None of the original villagers live there anymore, their houses and courtyards initially remained empty, then climate activists occupied the settlement.

Lützerath has become their place of pilgrimage, one of their most important arenas in the fight for the 1.5 degree target.

The activists have recently repeatedly organized demonstrations in which thousands of people spoke out in favor of preserving the village.

There were also several protests recently in front of the NRW Economics Ministry in Düsseldorf.

A plethora of new questions

The agreement between the federal and state governments on the one hand and RWE on the other hand should mean the end of the settlement.

Lützerath will fall, the energy company will dig up the coal underneath - RWE has had the legal requirements for this for a long time.

The big questions seem to have been answered, and the long-term goals for phasing out coal have been set.

And yet the decision raised a wealth of new questions.

A protest camp has been set up in Lützerath in recent years, and around 150 activists are currently living in the settlement.

They will not go voluntarily, which is why their camp will probably have to be cleared by RWE security forces and the police in the coming weeks.

Just like it happened in the Hambach Forest in 2018.

The eviction was later ruled unlawful by a court.

They are "prepared to defend Lützerath with civil disobedience," says activist Ronni Zepplin, spokeswoman for the "Lützerath Lives" initiative.

One was "angry" about the decisions that were announced on Tuesday.

A coal phase-out in 2030 is "much too late", it is "anti-social and cynical" that "the Greens secure the profits for RWE."

more on the subject

  • Despite the protest camp in NRW: Lützerath has to give way for the coal

  • Press conference: RWE will phase out coal in 2030 – Lützerath will be excavated

  • Protests in the Rhenish lignite mining area: For the climate in the cellBy Lukas Kissel and Tom Schmidtgen

  • Conflict over Lützerath: The place that Greta Thunberg canonizedBy Lukas Eberle, Tobias Großekemper and Benedikt Müller-Arnold

  • A farmer defies the energy giant RWE: Suddenly a hero in the fight for the climateBy Lukas Eberle

There is also criticism within the party of Habeck and Neubaur.

Tackling Lützerath is "a decision against the climate that we think is wrong," says Timon Dzienus, federal spokesman for the Green Youth.

It is unclear how things will continue in Lützerath, when the settlement will be cleared and the houses demolished.

"What happens on site is difficult to predict," says RWE boss Krebber in Berlin.

However, his group does “not do anything alone, but together with the state government”.

It is a remarkable sentence, since the North Rhine-Westphalian state government is not responsible for the clearing of potential opencast mining areas of the energy company.

For an operation against the activists, RWE can submit a request for official and enforcement assistance to the police, and the clearing of the Hambach Forest also happened on this basis.

As in 2018, the police in Aachen would be responsible this time too.

Just last week it was said there that "currently no action" was planned in Lützerath.

If you want to know from Neubaur whether the state government is preparing for a large-scale police operation in Lützerath, she squirms: "I would say that we approach the question of a concrete measure for making the mining stresses available step by step, calmly ", she says.

Even the awkward wording shows how precarious the situation is for Neubaur.

Perhaps she hopes to be able to resolve the situation on the spot without throwing stones and swinging batons.

Post from the Minister

On Tuesday morning, the NRW economics minister sent a letter to the mayors of the coal region, the Federal Environment and Nature Conservation Federation, the “All Villages Remain” initiative and to activists.

She wants to talk to all sides "about the agreements made and the tasks that are now pending," says the letter, which SPIEGEL has seen.

"I'll get back to you shortly with an appointment," writes Neubaur.

The activists in Lützerath recently collected signatures from fellow campaigners who have promised to support them on site in the event of an eviction.

It is said that almost 10,000 signatures have been collected so far.

"After today, we assume that many more will come here," says activist spokeswoman Zepplin.

Source: spiegel

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