Following the disaster of Fukushima, and under public opinion pressure, the German government decided in spring 2011 to maintain the program of phasing out nuclear power by the year 2022, by focusing on a rapid development of renewable energy supplies but also on its own resources of fossil fuels, including lignite, found in abundance on its territory.
Germany is the world’s main producer of lignite, which is used as fuel in thermal power stations located close to the extraction sites.
The RWE group, one of the German energy giants, extracts about 100 millions of tons of lignite per year in three opencast mines in North Rhine-Westphalia, in order to supply fuel to run their six plants in the region.
The use of a low-efficiency fossil fuel such as lignite produces significant emissions of carbon dioxide and harmful fine particles into the atmosphere. Its extraction brings about considerable changes in the environment and the landscape: entire villages are expropriated, immense areas of agricultural or forest land are destroyed, and highways are diverted as the excavators advance and dig into the ground several hundred meters deep to reach the layers of lignite.
In the region of Hambach in the 1970s, in the immediate vicinity of one of the biggest opencast mines in Europe, was a forest which stretched over more than 5000 hectares. This forest had remained intact for several thousands of years.
Over the past decades the bulk of it has been swallowed up by the mining activity.
In May 2012, a group of militants built a camp in the Hambach forest in order to protest against the RWE group’s expansionary policy and to prevent the destruction of the last remaining hectares of the forest.
Facing the mine, right at the edge of the forest, shelters made out of wood, straw and clay were constructed. Platforms and wooden houses in the trees sheltered the activists for several months.
In November a massive forced eviction was organised by the authorities.
After four days of altercations between the militants and the police forces, the last activist was brought out from a tunnel in which he had barricaded himself, and the camp was destroyed. A few hours later, a new camp was set up a little further away in a field bordering the Hambach Forest.
Since then, activists and supporters from all over Germany but also from other European countries have followed one another to the camp. Every day they are threatened with eviction.