Anti-coal movement in Europe is growing

Anti-coal protest in North-Rhein Westfalia, Germany. Photo: BY-NC

New coal power stations are planned to be built around Europe, but there is also growing resistance in many countries including Germany, Poland and Czech Republic.

All over Europe people are mobilising to oppose new coal projects and demand the phasing out of coal for energy production. The International Energy Agency has announced that no new coal power stations should be built in Europe if UN climate targets are to be reached. Climate Action Network argues for net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 globally.

In many parts of Europe citizen initiatives are organising resistance against new coal power stations, coal mining and plans to build carbon capture and storage infrastructure and projects. Lignite mining is threatening many historic villages, the livelihoods of people and destroying landscapes.

But often this resistance has already been going on for decades without attracting significant public attention. Villages now destroyed by lignite mining, such as Lacoma and Heuersdorf in Germany or Libkovice in the Czech Republic, have been fighting for many years and have become symbols for this anti-coal movement.

Many new coal power stations are planned to be built in eastern and southeastern Europe, but the local resistance against these projects is now starting to pick up momentum. In Poland, for example, Greenpeace organised protest demonstrations in November 2013 at six different coal power stations and, like the Institute for Sustainable Development in Poland, has proposed plans for phasing out coal.

In Germany, the movement is very active in the states of Brandenburg, Sachsen and North-Rhein Westfalia. Dozens of villages with thousands of inhabitants face the threat of losing their homes. In the states of Niedersachsen and Schleswig-Holstein, as in Denmark and the Netherlands, villages are fighting CCS projects and one can see anti-CCS banners and flags in many locations.

In the state of Hamburg, citizens and politicians have tried to stop the building of a new 1,600 MW hard-coal power station at Moorburg in the harbour using all possible legal means, including reference to German and EU air pollution, nature conservation and water management legislation, but without success. Environmental NGOs such as BUND and NABU have organised street demonstrations, public hearings and public referendums.

Gruene Liga Umweltgruppe Cottbus has very actively supported the local villagers in Brandenburg in their fight for many years. In North Rhine-Westphalia, BUND has run one legal action after the other against old and new coal power stations and mining projects. But the experience seems to be that present water, air and landscape protection legislation in Germany and the EU is not strong enough to stop such coal projects, and has mostly only been successful in delaying the planning process.

Another 1,600 MW RWE coal-fired power station at Hamm in North-Rhine Westphalia is planned to go into operation soon. According to news from Platts, German power plant operators plan to add 7.3 GW of new coal-fired capacity by 2015, with almost 5 GW set to come online next year.

On the other hand there are also some good signs. Germany’s renewable energy industry has shown its strength according to news reports from Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA). “Shattering through another solar power record last summer (2013) utility company RWE announces it will close fossil fuel power plants as they are no longer competitive. RWE said 3.1 GW of generating capacity would be taken offline, as it suspends or shuts down some of its gas and coal-fired power stations. This represents 6 per cent of RWE’s total capacity. It said a boom in solar energy meant many of its power stations were no longer profitable. The RWE statement read: ‘Due to the continuing boom in solar energy, many power stations throughout the sector and across Europe are no longer profitable to operate. During the first half of 2013, the conventional power generation division’s operating result fell by almost two-thirds’.” According to GCCA, German rival E.On has also said it has shut down or left idle 6.5 GW of generating capacity.

Environmental NGO networks in Europe such as Friends of the Earth, WWF, Greenpeace, Climate Action Network and the European Climate Foundation, are now all actively campaigning to phase out coal in Europe as soon as possible.

Reinhold Pape


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