16 Jan 2023, 14:08
Carolina Kyllmann Julian Wettengel

Coal protest in Germany deepens rift between Green Party and climate movement

Image shows climate protesters on field near Lützerath, Germany in January 2023. Image:  Lützi lebt/Unwisemonkeys
Protesters near Lützerath in January 2023. Photo: Lützi lebt/Unwisemonkeys CC BY-NC 2.0.

The Green Party's leadership has faced broad criticism from the climate movement for agreeing to the demolition of the village of Lützerath to expand a neighbouring mine as part of a larger deal to exit coal in western Germany by 2030. While leading Green politicians argue that bringing forward the coal phase-out in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to 2030 is a major climate success, activists say that the village could have been saved, even when considering supply security in the energy crisis. Many are threatening to abandon support for the party, applying pressure on Green Party politicians to more seriously account for the demands of those who have backed the party until now.

The demolition of the western German village of Lützerath, which is set to be mined for lignite, has deepened the rift between the Green Party and the climate movement. Protests by more than 15,000 people over the weekend (14/15 January) and the clash between police and activists who had occupied the village are the latest signs of an discontent between the Green Party leadership and their – often younger – followership, writes Constanze von Bullion in Süddeutsche Zeitung. “The new generation of climate activists, some of whom had their first acquaintance with police batons over the weekend, are threatening to abandon the eco-party. This should give Green leaders in Berlin pause for thought,” she writes.

The small western German village of Lützerath has become the latest battle ground for climate activists, as it is to be demolished to expand a neighbouring lignite mine. Lützerath is a delicate issue, especially for the Green Party, whose federal and state leaders reached a deal with RWE last year. The agreement means coal power in the state will end by 2030 – eight years earlier than previously planned – but lignite plants are allowed to run in the short term to help with the energy crisis. While several villages will thus be saved, the deal means Lützerath is to be demolished. Given Germany’s aims to quit coal ‘ideally’ by 2030 and to reach climate neutrality by 2045, the fate of the village is hotly contested and climate protesters are calling to keep the coal in the ground. It took police several days to vacate activists from the village.

Key faces of the climate movement such as Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer - who is a member of the Green Party herself - have criticised the Green Party leadership for the deal with RWE. Even Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who inspired the global Fridays for Future climate movement and joined the protest in Lützerath, was among those to criticise the German Greens for their support of the demolition and the removal of coal from beneath the village. In an interview with public broadcaster ARD, Thunberg said that while she could not say what the government had debated with RWE when reaching the deal, “it’s very hypocritical what’s happening now – to one second participate in the demonstrations for Lützerath and then in the next sacrificing it.”

Raphael Thelen, climate activist of the protest group "Letzte Generation" (Last Generation), echoed her statements: “The Greens stabbed the climate movement in Lützerath in the back. Trust was broken, and thus the most important precondition for our social coexistence was violated.”  Thelen added that activists want climate justice, not excuses, and politicians are starting to realise that they’ll pay the political price if they don’t listen. Political reporter Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti said the coal phase-out in Germany does not end with a final date for coal production, but only when all the consequences of centuries-long overexploitation are eliminated. Important questions about renaturation are still open, she added.

In an open letter to ministers Habeck and Neubaur, Green Party members, some high-ranking, last week said that the 2022 deal with RWE “threatens to break with the principles of our party, […] the Paris Climate Agreement, […] and the remaining trust of the climate justice movement.”

The protest is necessary to remind the Greens of their roots, writes Pitt von Bebenburg in Frankfurter Rundschau. “The eco-party is under pressure from the outside and from within.” He argues that the Greens need this pressure, and “in a way they can be grateful for it.” The occupations prove that the Greens were the party where climate activists still expect something. “They have given up hope with the Union, SPD and FDP,” writes von Bebenburg.

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