Clashes as Greta Thunberg joins anti-coal activists to save German village

Climate activist Greta Thunberg condemned moves to demolish a German village to make way for a coal mine expansion as police clashed with demonstrators at the site on Saturday.

Police face protesters during a large-scale protest to stop the demolition of the village Lützerath
Police face protesters during a large-scale protest to stop the demolition of the village Lützerath to make way for an open-air coal mine extension on January 14, 2023. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Crowds of activists marched on the hamlet of Lützerath in western Germany, waving banners, chanting and accompanied by a brass band.

On the sidelines, there were tense standoffs and scuffles in the pouring rain, between some protesters and police.

Mounted police clash with protesters during a large-scale protest to stop the demolition of the village Lützerath. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Lützerath — deserted for some time by its original inhabitants — is being razed to make way for the extension of the adjacent open-cast coal mine, one of the largest in Europe, operated by energy firm RWE.

Thunberg marched at the front of the procession as demonstrators converged on the village, showing support for activists occupying it in protest over the coal mine extension.

“That the German government is making deals and compromises with fossil fuel companies such as RWE, is shameful,” she said from a podium.

“Germany, as one of the biggest polluters in the world, has an enormous responsibility,” she added.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) holds a sign reading "Lützi stays" next to German climate activist Luisa Neubauer (2L) during a large-scale protest to stop the demolition of the village Lützerath

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) holds a sign reading “Lützi stays” next to German climate activist Luisa Neubauer (2L) at the protest on January 14, 2023. Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP

AFP saw some protesters clash with police who were trying to move the march away from Lützerath, which has been fenced off.

Videos posted by independent press on Twitter showed some of the clashes.

Local media reported stones being thrown at police. One protester was seen with a head injury, as ambulance sirens sounded near the protest site.

Police said protective barriers near the huge coal mine had been smashed by activists, who had then entered the mine site.

“The police barriers have been broken. To the people in front of Lützerath: get out of this area immediately,” the police tweeted.

“Some people have entered the mine. Move away from the danger zone immediately!”

Police clash with protesters at the demonstration in Lützerath. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Final stages of evacuation

In an operation launched earlier this week, hundreds of police have been removing activists from the hamlet.

In just a few days, a large part of the protesters’ camp has been cleared by police and its occupants evacuated.

German press, quoting the police, reported that around 470 activists had been removed from the village since the beginning of the evacuation.

Police use water cannons during the protest. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

But between 20 and 40 were still holed up in the contested village late on Friday, a spokeswoman for the protest movement said.

Officials said they were entering the final stages of evacuating the activists.

Demolition works were progressing slowly on the buildings that had been emptied, while surrounding trees had been felled as part of the clearance.

The village has become a symbol of resistance against fossil fuels, and the rallying call for the protest has been: “Against the evacuation — for an end to coal and climate justice.”

READ ALSO: German anti-coal activists storm Green politician’s office

Energy crisis

Police reinforcements have come from across the country to participate in the forced evacuation.

People hold banners and signs at the protest. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Meanwhile, AFP saw protesters arriving in buses, holding banners with slogans including “Stop coal” and “Luetzerath lives!”

Organisers said 35,000 people attended the demonstration.

In the village, many of the activists have built structures high up in the trees, while others have climbed to the top of abandoned buildings and barns.

Activists said they had also dug a tunnel under the hamlet in a bid to complicate the evacuation effort.

The movement has been supported by protest actions across Germany. On Friday, masked activists set fire to bins and painted slogans on the offices of the Greens in Berlin.

A protester watches proceedings from a post. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

The party — part of Germany’s ruling coalition with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats and the liberal FDP — has come under heavy criticism from activists who accuse it of betrayal.

Following the energy crisis set off by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the government has brought old coal power plants back online.

Officials also signed a compromise deal with RWE that made way for the demolition of Lützerath but spared five nearby villages.

The open-cast mine area in Lützerath on January 14, 2023. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

The energy firm also agreed to stop producing electricity with coal in western Germany by 2030, eight years earlier than previously planned.

German Chancellor Olaf Sholz on Saturday inaugurated a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the northern port of Lubmin, on the Baltic coast.

The plant is another part of the German plan to compensate for the loss of Russian gas imports.

READ ALSO: Germany misses 2022 climate target on Ukraine war fallout

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How a Hamburg factory wants to counter climate change with chocolate

At a red-brick factory in the German port city of Hamburg, cocoa bean shells go in one end, and out the other comes an amazing black powder with the potential to counter climate change.

How a Hamburg factory wants to counter climate change with chocolate

The substance, dubbed biochar, is produced by heating the cocoa husks in an oxygen-free room to 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 Fahrenheit).

The process locks in greenhouse gases and the final product can be used as a fertiliser, or as an ingredient in the production of “green” concrete.

While the biochar industry is still in its infancy, the technology offers a novel way to remove carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere, experts say.

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), biochar could potentially be used to capture 2.6 billion of the 40 billion tonnes of CO2 currently produced by humanity each year.

But scaling up its use remains a challenge.


“We are reversing the carbon cycle,” Peik Stenlund, CEO of Circular Carbon, told AFP at the biochar factory in Hamburg.

The plant, one of the largest in Europe, takes delivery of the used cocoa shells via a network of grey pipes from a neighbouring chocolate factory.

The biochar traps the CO2 contained in the husks — in a process that could be used for any other plant.

If the cocoa shells were disposed of as normal, the carbon inside the unused byproduct would be released into the atmosphere as it decomposed.

Instead, the carbon is sequestered in the biochar “for centuries”, according to David Houben, an environmental scientist at the UniLaSalle institute in France.

One tonne of biochar — or bio coal — can stock “the equivalent of 2.5 to three tonnes of CO2”, Houben told AFP.

Biochar was already used by indigenous populations in the Americas as a fertiliser before being rediscovered in the 20th century by scientists researching extremely fecund soils in the Amazon basin.

The surprising substance’s sponge-like structure boosts crops by increasing the absorption of water and nutrients by the soil.

In Hamburg, the factory is wrapped in the faint smell of chocolate and warmed by the heat given off by the installation’s pipework.

The final product is poured into white sacks to be sold to local farmers in granule form.

One of those farmers is Silvio Schmidt, 45, who grows potatoes near Bremen, west of Hamburg. Schmidt hopes the biochar will help “give more nutrients and water” to his sandy soils.

Carbon cost

The production process, called pyrolysis, also produces a certain volume of biogas, which is resold to the neighbouring factory. In all, 3,500 tonnes of biochar and “up to 20 megawatt hours” of gas are produced by the plant each year from 10,000 tonnes of cocoa shells.

The production method nonetheless remains difficult to scale up to the level imagined by the IPCC.

“To ensure the system stores more carbon than it produces, everything needs to be done locally, with little or no transport. Otherwise it makes no sense,” Houben said.

And not all types of soil are well adapted to biochar. The fertiliser is “more effective in tropical climates”, while the raw materials for its production are not available everywhere, Houben said.

The cost can also be prohibitive at “around 1,000 euros ($1,070) a tonne — that’s too much for a farmer”, he added.

To make better use of the powerful black powder, Houben said other applications would need to be found. The construction sector, for example, could use biochar in the production of “green” concrete.

But to turn a profit, the biochar business has come up with another idea: selling carbon certificates.

The idea is to sell certificates to companies looking to balance out their carbon emissions by producing a given amount of biochar.

With the inclusion of biochar in the highly regulated European carbon certificates system, “we are seeing strong growth in (the) sector”, CEO Stenlund said. His company is looking to open three new sites to produce more biochar in the coming months.

Across Europe, biochar projects have begun to multiply. According to the biochar industry federation, production is set to almost double to 90,000 tonnes this year compared with 2022.