Climate Policy Coal Energy Renewables 1 February, 2023 9:00 am   
Editorial staff

Laumann: Germany is racing to mine as much coal before 2030 phase-out as possible (INTERVIEW)

Coal. Photo: Freepik Coal. Photo: Freepik

Actually, the moment when Germany formally abandons coal does not play a bigger role, because it is not the time that emits CO2, only the combustion of this fuel. Coal companies are therefore in a hurry to extract as much as possible – says Christopher Laumanns from the organization Alle Dörfer bleiben in an interview with You monitor mining areas in Lusatia. Can you tell us what the situation is now?

Christopher Laumanns: This is mostly about regions where lignite is extracted across all Germany. In Lusatia, the situation is that LEAG, the company that carries out mining in this region, wants to develop a special mining area in Mühlrose, but does not have permission to do so. It is a special open-pit mining area, which the company wants to develop, but it has neither a political nor a legal permit to do so yet. The old Serbian-Lusatian village Müllrose, or Mühlrad as some call it, is located there.  The LEAG Corporation signed civil-law contracts on resettlement with the majority of the residents, but not with everybody. Some of them were relocated to a nearby town.

Is such a civil-law contract binding?

The contract is, of course, legally binding, but it does not mean the company has the right to resettle the entire village. Especially against the will of the people. So people who want to stay can stay. The problem is that both the government and, above all, LEAG present it as if it were a normal resettlement, as if the people were expropriated anyway, even if they did not agree. As if all this was already legally agreed on and as if coal was needed anyway and was being mined. None of this is true. That’s why a lot of people think they need to move. And many people even want to move, because life there has become impossible. The open-pit mine is already operating practically throughout the village. There is a lot of noise and dirt, and the houses are simply demolished. Old, historic houses. All this despite the fact that no permit for coal mining has been issued. Who would want to stay in a village from which many people have already left and where more than half of the houses have already been demolished? From what I know, there’s only one old married couple that says they’re not leaving. The thing is, even if only they say they won’t leave, this village actually has to stay, because there is no permission to move the whole village.

LEAG’s decision may come as a surprise. The coal commission has decided to gradually phase out coal in Germany. LEAG was even awarded billions in damages for abandoning coal. Does this mean that LEAG is now challenging this decision?

LEAG is not interested in political decisions, but only in how much it profits. And all the money from coal mining in Lusatia eventually goes to two businessmen. And there is a whole network of companies that are managed from different tax havens and so on. That’s why LEAG as a company will always do what rakes in the most money to its owners. And if they figure out that moving this village makes sense, they’ll do it. Perhaps they will not even do it with the intention of extracting coal, but in order to have as much political room for negotiations as possible. And this is happening now, when in the east of Germany they are talking about phasing out coal in 2030.

Do you think that phasing out coal can now be moved to 2030 also in the east of Germany?

Yeah, I think it’s definitely going to happen. However, it must be said that the very moment of withdrawal from coal is relatively insignificant. Whether it will be 2038 or 2030, it really depends on the amount of coal that will be burned. And that is why we hope that it will not be such a disaster with coal phase-out in 2030 in the east of Germany, as it is in the west, that is, they just say ok, we are phasing out by 2030. This should make everyone happy, but in reality the same amount of coal will be burned in less time.

Do you expect the same events, the same protests, demonstrations in Lusatia that we have just seen in Rhineland?

I think the protests in Lusatia will intensify. But they will not be on such a scale as in Rhineland, because in Lusatia there is no such resistance as in Rhineland, at least not so much. There is also a long-standing resistance in Lusatia. However, it is not widespread. And misinformation from the company and the state is stronger than in Rhineland.

Does this mean that Greta Thunberg will not come to Lusatia and help as in Lützerath?

She’ll have to decide for herself. Yeah, it definitely helped. But I would say it was just one factor among many, many others. And the fact that she took part in civil disobedience drew even more international attention to the protests. Greta didn’t agree to come until Friday the 13th, and that’s when we found out she was going to speak on the 14th. Then it turned out that she herself decided that she would also participate in the protests. And then it was in the press all over the world.

Does making this process international make sense?

Yes, I think the mining law is simply a manifestation of this specific injustice in Germany. But the bottom line is that coal has to stay in the ground, and that’s because it has such a negative impact on the climate. One ton of lignite corresponds to one ton of CO2, which means that 280 million tons are to be extracted from the Garzweiler open-pit mine in Rhineland alone. This is a multiple of what other countries produce in an entire year. Greece, for example, emits about 60 million tons a year, so that’s five times what the whole country produces in a year. And that’s what only one open-pit mine in Germany produces. That is why it has an international dimension. And it’s not so unexpected that the protests are happening in Germany, because we’ve seen it before in the Hambach forest, and earlier in the anti-nuclear protests. In those cases, too, the entire European movement has always been opposed and has drawn attention to this issue all over the world.

Interview by Aleksandra Fedorska