The picturesque village of Lützerath, nestled in the heart of Germany’s Rhineland region, has become a beacon for climate activists from all over the world. They have come to the village to stand in solidarity with the local citizens, who are fighting to save their homes from the expansion of the nearby open-pit coal mine. The mine, known as Garzweiler, has already claimed the lives of around 20 villages and Lützerath is next in line for destruction.
David Dresen, spokesperson for the citizens’ initiative All Villages Must Stay, which campaigns for the preservation of villages in Germany’s lignite mining areas in line with climate goals, is deeply moved by the outpouring of support. “It is incredibly good to feel the support of a huge movement,” he said. “There are people here from all over Europe and we’ve received expressions of solidarity from all over the world.”
The Garzweiler mine, located just next to the village, is a stark reminder of the devastation that can be caused by open-cast mining. The excavators have been mining coal across more than 80 square kilometers (30 square miles) for decades, leaving behind a gaping hole up to 200 meters (around 650 feet) deep, that resemble a surreal lunar landscape.
Lützerath is particularly significant as it will be the last village lost to coal mining since the beginning of the lignite industry back in the mid-19th century. The last farmer, Eckardt Heukamp, sold his plot to German mining conglomerate RWE and moved out a few weeks ago. Now, the more than 1,000 activists based there are aiming to prevent the demolition of the village. They have set up a fortress over the last two years, living in empty houses but also building numerous treehouses and a camp on Heukamp’s old cow meadow.
There has been much controversy surrounding the expansion of the mine and whether the village can still be mined at all. A 2021 study by the German Institute for Economic Research showed that the mine expansion does not comply with Germany’s climate commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement. The study highlighted the need to reduce coal production, which would mean all the remaining villages around the Garzweiler open-pit mine could be preserved, including Lützerath.
On October 4th, the German federal government and state of North Rhine-Westphalia reached an agreement with RWE to phase out coal by 2030, eight years earlier than planned. Five villages that would have fallen prey to the Garzweiler open-cast mine could thus be saved, but Lützerath would have to be sacrificed, said Mona Neubaur, the economics and climate minister for North Rhine-Westphalia.
Critics argue that the decision was made in the interest of the coal company and that the energy crisis, including a gas shortage, was used as an excuse to compromise on climate goals. Linda Kastrup, a spokesperson for the Fridays for Future climate movement in Germany, said “Robert Habeck and Mona Neubauer have decided on a dirty deal with RWE based on questionable figures, which in the end only helps one thing: the coal company itself.”
Claudia Kemfert, head of the department of energy, transportation and environment at the German Institute for Economic Research, said the decision is difficult to understand. She believes there should have been a transparent dialogue process with all parties involved. She also stated that the coal under Lützerath is not required to meet Germany’s energy needs. “Our study clearly shows that Lützerath does not need to be destroyed and mined,” she said.