Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was briefly detained by police on Tuesday during a protest against the controversial expansion of a coal mine in western Germany that has become a flashpoint for the climate debate in this country.
Protests in Lützerath, a small village which is to be cleared and demolished to make way for the nearby Garzweiler coal minehave become massive and controversial over the past week. At least 15,000 people demonstrated on Saturday.
This included Thunberg, 20, who has been among the world’s most high-profile climate protesters since addressing the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference as a teenager.
Thunberg had traveled to Germany this week to join the Lützerath protests. On Tuesday, she was among a group of protesters led away by police after approaching the edge of the mine, German news agency dpa reported. She was released soon after, according to Reuters.
The Garzweiler mine is one of three huge surface coal mines in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The type of coal produced in the mines, lignite, is responsible for about 20% of Germany’s carbon emissions.
All three mines have been expanding for decades. Over the years, some fifty villages in the region, including several centenarians, were evicted and bulldozed to make way for the mines.
Lützerath, about 24 km from Germany’s western border, has been at the center of protests since a court approved its destruction a decade ago.
The hamlet was once home to around 100 residents, all of whom have been displaced since 2017, according to RWE, the company that operates the mine. Since then, protesters have been squatting in empty buildings.
A court ruling last week cleared the way for the squatters to be evicted and the hamlet destroyed. The protests have since grown in size and controversy, with clashes between police and protesters in recent days.
Climate activists say the mine expansion will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, which could cause Germany to miss its climate targets under the Paris Agreement.
Energy has perhaps been the hottest political issue in Germany over the past two years. The country has traditionally relied on fossil fuels, but in 2019 it pledged to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Then the timeline was accelerated in 2021, when the High The country’s court ruled that the government needed to do even more to reduce emissions.
But after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022 – and subsequently cut off natural gas deliveries to Europe – Germany turned to coal again. At least 20 coal-fired power plants across the country have been revived or extended beyond their original shutdown dates in a bid to keep the lights on this winter.
Germany missed its 2022 climate targets, and officials have warned it will likely miss the 2023 targets as well.
In October, RWE and the German government announced an agreement to close the company’s coal operations ahead of schedule in exchange for the continued demolition of Lützerath.
The deal called for RWE to close its coal mines in 2030, eight years earlier than originally planned. This plan would spare five other villages and three farms once slated for demolition.
But the destruction of Lützerath, located so close to the present edge of the mine, was still “necessary to make optimal use” of the coal until thensaid RWE.
All of this has infuriated climate activistswho have staged near-daily protests in recent months, including protests blocking major city streets and airport runways in Munich and Berlin.
“The company regrets that the planned demolition process can only take place under substantial police protection and that opponents of the open pit mine are calling for unlawful disturbance as well as criminal acts,” RWE said in a statement. last week.