An unexpected High Court ruling in the German state of North Rhein Westphalia (NRW) has blocked energy giant RWE from further destruction of the Hambacher Forest for the next couple of years. The decision has been hailed as a major victory by the newly-revitalised German environmental and climate justice movement.
The surprise decision was made by the NRW Higher Administrative Court in a case brought by the environmental organisation BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), who are claiming special conservation status under European law for the forest. The court estimated it would need at least a year-and-a-half to reach a verdict, and that no further deforestation should take place until then.
The verdict was announced on October 5, and was accompanied by an NRW police announcement banning a nationwide demonstration planned for Hambacher Forest the next day. Buoyed by the verdict, all the major participating groups announced they would defy the ban, which was later revoked by another court verdict.
The turnout for the march was huge: 50,000 people made the journey to the forest to support the forest defenders and to call for an end to coal in Germany. This makes it the largest anti-coal, climate justice protest in German history.
Support for the climate justice movement is at an all-time high. A statewide poll in NRW put opposition to further destruction of the Hambacher Forest at 79%, cutting right across the entire political spectrum.
RWE had spent the week preparing for the demonstration by completing the last eviction of tree house squatters in the forest and fencing off the area. They even dug a defensive ditch and built a rampart to prevent demonstrators from reaching the trees.
In the end, however, their countermeasures came to nothing. Activists and their supporters made use of their time in the forest on October 6 to erect new anti-eviction barricades and tree-house structures.
In addition, more than 500 million euro was wiped off of RWE’s stock exchange value in the space of a single week as a result of bad publicity and poor future prospects.
Forest defenders and their supporters are jubilant about their unexpected victory, but the court decision is little more than a reprieve. Over the course of the recent intense struggle, the mining and energy conglomerate has repeatedly shown its enormous influence over coal-related policymaking in Germany.
Given the amount of money, power and influence at RWE’s disposal, no-one is expecting it to take this decision lying down.
This is why more radical sections of the climate justice movement are looking to build on the current levels of support to step up the campaign for a fossil-free future. Activists have not only begun to re-occupy the forest, but are also looking to expand protests to help protect local communities still threatened by expansion of RWE’s huge Hambach open-cast mine.
The next major focus for the German climate movement is bound to be on increasing grassroots pressure for an early end to coal production. The German government is busy backsliding on its commitments to end coal — proposing dates as late as 2045 for a final phase-out. Only the grassroots movement is calling for an immediate end to coal.
Coming on the back of the IPCC’s recent report calling for immediate and decisive global action to stick within 1.5 degrees of warming, the stage looks set for further significant climate struggles in Germany in the coming year.