Climate activists dig in to defend village from coal mine

BERLIN (AP) — Climate activists pledged Sunday to defend a tiny village in western Germany from being bulldozed for the expansion of a nearby coal mine that has become a battlegroundbetween the government and environmental campaigners.

Hundreds of people from across Germany gathered for protest training and a subsequent demonstration in the hamlet of Luetzerath, which lies west of Cologne next to the vast Garzweiler coal mine.

The open-cast mine, which provides a large share of the lignite — a soft, brownish coal — burned at nearby power plants, is scheduled to close by 2030 under a deal agreed last year between the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia and utility company RWE.

The company says it needs the coal to ensure Germany's energy security, which has come under strain following the cut in gas supplies from Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

But environmental groups have blasted the agreement, saying it will still result in hundreds of millions of tons of coal being extracted and burned. They argue that this would release vast amounts of greenhouse gas and make it impossible for Germany to meet its commitments under the 2015 Paris climate accord.

“(We) will fight for every tree, for every house, for every meter in this village,” said Luka Scott, a spokesperson for the alliance of groups organizing protests. “Because whoever attacks Luetzerath, attacks our future.”

Prominent campaigners have rallied support to defend the village from destruction, citing the impact that climate change is already having on Germany and beyond.

While much of Sunday's event had a festival feeling, with families attending and a popular band playing on site, some activists were preparing for possible confrontations with the police. Protesters briefly clashed with officers last week, and German news agency dpa reported that barricades and other defensive measures have been put in place to prevent Luetzerath being razed.

The fight over Luetzerath has driven a wedge between environmentalists and the left-leaning Green party, which is part of the government in North Rhine-Westphalia and at the national level.

The party's co-chair in the western state, Yazgulu Zeybek, urged protesters to refrain from violence and allow the destruction of the village to proceed.

In an interview with daily Westdeutschen Allgemeinen Zeitung, she said the Greens “neither wished for nor chose” that Luetzerath should be destroyed, but added that the legal situation was clear.

The village and surrounding areas belong to RWE and the last farmer residing there sold his property to the company in 2022 after losing a court case against his eviction. Since then, only a handful of activists have squatted the land, some living in self-built tree houses or caravans.

Police have said no clearance will take place before Jan. 10.

Frank Jordans, The Associated Press