A German court on Friday temporarily blocked energy giant RWE from razing part of an ancient forest to make way for a giant open-pit mine, in a rare victory for anti-coal campaigners.
The Hambach forest near Cologne has been occupied by activists for the past six years, but its fate had appeared sealed after authorities last month ordered police to dismantle their tree houses in a forced eviction that made headlines at home and abroad.
“This is a good day for nature and climate protection and a milestone for
the anti-coal movement,” Greenpeace's Martin Kaiser told a press conference.
In an emergency ruling, judges at the higher administrative court in
Münster said they needed more time to consider the complaint brought by environmental group BUND.
The plaintiffs are arguing that Hambach forest, located in the industrial heartland in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is home to rare species like Bechstein's bat and therefore qualifies as a protected area under EU law.
An aerial overview of the remaining forest. Photo: DPA
Judges said RWE did not have the right to create an “irreversible” situation on the ground before they had ruled on the “complex” case.
RWE, which owns the forest, had planned to begin clearing half of the woodland's remaining 200 hectares (500 acres) from October 15th.
The company claims that the expansion of its massive lignite mine is necessary to ensure the energy supply of nearby coal-fired power plants – which are among the most polluting in the European Union.
The David-versus-Goliath battle in the forest has come to symbolize resistance against brown coal mining in Germany, a country that despite its green reputation remains heavily reliant on this dirtiest of fossil fuels.
The former 4100-hectare forest with centuries-old beech trees and oaks is probably the largest open-cast lignite mine in Europe.
Hambach, situated between Aachen and Cologne, is now regarded as a symbol for resistance to lignite-fired power generation and for climate protection.
The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia had instructed the district of Düren and the city of Kerpen to clear the tree houses erected in the forest by deforestation opponents for safety reasons.
Police have dismantled the tree houses in the past few weeks in a dangerous bid, which resulted in the death of one journalist.
Environmental groups had called for a mass rally at the forest on Saturday but police cancelled the demo at short notice citing safety concerns.
Despite massively investing in renewables in recent years Germany still gets around 40 percent of its energy from coal – in part to offset the impact of Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision after the Fukushima disaster to exit nuclear power by 2022.
The government admitted in June that it will miss its target for reducing
carbon dioxide emissions.
Rather than cutting CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, Europe's top economy expects to come in at 32 percent.
“We will remain dependent on brown coal for a long while yet,” Frank
Weigand, head of RWE's power division, recently told German broadcaster ARD.