Environmental activists rallying against the destruction of the Hambach Forest in Germany scored a win after a local court blocked energy giant RWE from felling the trees. While many lauded it as a victory for the environment, people also raised concerns about how the country’s energy needs are going to be met if its own energy sources are not tapped.
Saving the forest
The Hambach Forest is an ancient forest near Cologne that is under the ownership of the energy company RWE. The corporation was planning on clearing out nearly 500 acres of the forest in order to expand a nearby coal mine. However, several environmental activists ended up camping in the forest to stop RWE from cutting down the trees. In September, police had brutally removed the activists from the forest, an event that gained them much public sympathy.
RWE was preparing to start operations on October 15, but to the reprieve of anti-coal activists, the court instructed RWE to cease destroying the forest. And according to the energy company, the final judgment on the matter may not be rendered until late 2020. Activists flooded Hambach forest after the court verdict, cheering their victory.
“The court ruling shows that blatant lies and reckless policies of corporations like RWE are no longer acceptable. However, it doesn’t switch off a single coal plant and doesn’t stop any of the other lignite mines. There still are villages, forests, and churches in danger of being destroyed and people are no longer willing to accept that — at the Hambach Forest or any other mines anywhere in the world,” an article at the Greenpeace website quotes Martin Kaiser, Executive Director of Greenpeace Germany.
Though Hambach Forest was saved by the court verdict, many people point out that the move will only block Germany from utilizing its coal reserves, increasing the country’s energy dependence on foreign powers, especially Russia.
Germany’s energy situation
As of 2016, about 63.5 percent of Germany’s energy needs were met through imports. A big chunk of the imports was for coal and natural gas, with Russia being the biggest supplier. The fact that one of the biggest European powers was dependent on Russia for its energy needs has been quite a concern throughout the EU and the U.S.
President Donald Trump even voiced strong opposition to a proposed gas pipeline between the two nations, as he feared that it would put Germany under Russian control. He is quoted by the BBC as saying: “Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60 percent to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline.”
Given that Germany is an importer of energy, many believe that the RWE judgment was against national interests. After all, only by using its own energy sources can Germany ever hope to cut back on Russian imports. But by blocking RWE from expanding the coal mine, Germany does not have many choices to become energy independent.
Germany’s long term climate targets require it to phase out coal mining at least by 2050 in order to reduce carbon emissions. But since the country meets about 24 percent of its energy needs through coal, the question is whether Germany can replace it by switching over to alternative fuels within the next couple of decades.