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Created on: 2018-09-18 11:36:54
Last update: 2019-09-02 10:31:16 BankTrack
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The Hambach open-cast lignite mine is adjacent to the last remaining part of the 12,000 year old Hambach Forest. 90% of this once large forest has already been destroyed due to the expansion of the pit, and RWE (owner of the mine) is now planning to cut down the last remaining part as well.
The German Coal Commission is working on a plan for a socially just coal phase-out. Since lignite is the most CO2-intensive form of energy production, a more or less quick phase-out of this industry will likely find its way into the Commission's recommendations - which will be published by the end of 2018. For this reason, NGOs and residents have requested a moratorium on forest destruction and village relocation relating to the Hambach open-cast mine - at least until the commission finishes its work.
About Hambach open-cast mine
The Hambach open-cast mine (Hambacher Tagebau), owned by RWE, is located in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The mine is the largest open-cast mine of Western Europe: it covers a surface of 8 by 10 kilometres and is around 500 metres deep. The mine has a coal output of 40 million tonnes per year and its operations make use of the largest automated machinery in the world (220 metres long, 96 metres high, 13,500 tonnes heavy).
Together with the coal outputs from Garzweiler and Inden - two other open-cast lignite mines in the area that are also owned by RWE - the Hambach mine's output is good for the production of 40% of the current power consumption of North Rhine-Westphalia. RWE has extraction rights for the mine until 2040.
Since 1978, the Hambach Forest has been cleared to make place for the mining activities of RWE. During this process, entire villages have been destroyed, people have lost their homes and the health of people has been affected negatively. Before the start of the mining, the Hambach Forest covered an area of 5,500 hectares. It has been reported that today, only 1,100 hectares are left due to RWE's mining activities.
For decades, locals and civil society organisations have been engaged with the RWE mining area. Many actions targeting RWE's mines, plants and infrastructure have been ongoing. For more than six years, activists have lived in treehouses in the forest to hinder clearance activities.
On September 13th, 2018, authorities decided that the treehouses are violating building codes and that they are a fire hazard. That same morning, police moved into the forest and removed activists from the treehouses. Since then, more people have been evicted from the forest and people have been arrested. Nevertheless, the activists in the Hambach forest are determined to continue opposing to RWE and the police. Environmental activists and brown coal opponents have called upon people to participate in the protest via Twitter.
What must happen
Investors and creditors of RWE should intervene and ask RWE to halt its plans for destroying the forest as well as its ongoing village relocation activities for mining expansion. RWE should await the outcomes of the Coal Commission and their subsequent implementation by the German government, instead of creating irreversible damage and esacalating the conflict.
RWE operates several of the oldest, most CO2-intensive coal power stations, which will have to be phased out early for Germany to be on track for a Paris-compliant coal phase-out. This is a conclusion that the Coal Commission will inevitably reach, if it bases its outcome on scientific coal phase-out models.
Human rights and social issues
Since the beginning of RWE's mining activities in the area, entire villages have been destroyed and more than 1,000 people have lost their homes. Moreover, the health of human beings has been negatively affected due to RWE's coal business. Coal-fired energy generation causes air pollution, which can affect people's health. Health issues that arise are illnesses (like bronchitis and asthma), but they can also result in premature deaths. Apart from the CO2 emissions causing health problems, the Hambach mine emits radioactive materials. These materials, when dissolved in rain, precipitate across Germany.
The lignite that is mined from the Hambach mine is transported to several coal power plants of RWE. There, they are burnt, releasing toxics into the air. A third of the CO2 emissions in Germany are emitted in the Hambach-area. In addition to the CO2 emissions, the power stations in the area are responsible for the emission of 50 kilograms mercury and radioactive material into the atmosphere. These emissions produce fine respirable dust (more than is created by all traffic in Germany) and negatively affect both climate change and human health.
Apart from CO2 emissions and radioactive dust, the Hambach mine makes use of an enormous amount of water. Groundwater is pumped into the Rhine river in order to prevent the groundwater from flooding the mines. The water that is used equals five times the annual water consumption of the city of Cologne.
Furthermore, it is important to notice that the Hambacher Forest is one of Central Europe's last remaining ''primeval'' forests. The Forest has a long history which goes back to the end of the last Ice Age. The Forest is home to a diversity of flora and fauna, as well as a range of (endangered) species.
DekaBank asks RWE to suspend clearing work
Via Twitter, DekaBank has asked RWE to suspend its clearing activities until the final recommendations of the Coal Commission are published. They stated that, as shareholders, they do not benefit from an escalation. Furthermore, they see the risk that RWE unnecessarily jeopardizes its reputation and future viability.
The Hambach mine is operated by RWE as part of its normal business operations and as such has no specific financiers. A list of financiers of RWE can be found here.