A German court on Friday temporarily blocked energy giant RWE from razing part of an ancient forest to make way for a giant open-pit mine, in a rare victory for anti-coal campaigners.
The Hambach forest near Cologne has been occupied by activists for the past six years, but its fate had appeared sealed after authorities last month ordered police to dismantle their treehouses in a forced eviction that made headlines at home and abroad.
“This is a good day for nature and climate protection and a milestone for the anti-coal movement,” Greenpeace’s Martin Kaiser told a press conference.
In an emergency ruling, judges at the higher administrative court in Muenster said they needed more time to consider the complaint brought by environmental group BUND.
The plaintiffs are arguing that Hambach forest, located in the industrial heartland of North Rhine- Westphalia state, is home to rare species like Bechstein’s bat and therefore qualifies as a protected area under EU law.
Judges said RWE did not have the right to create an “irreversible” situation on the ground before they had ruled on the “complex” case.
RWE, which owns the forest, had planned to begin clearing half of the woodland’s remaining 200 hectares (500 acres) from October 15.
The company claims that the expansion of its massive lignite mine is necessary to ensure the energy supply of nearby coal-fired power plants — which are among the most polluting in the European Union.
The David-versus-Goliath battle in the forest has come to symbolise resistance against brown coal mining in Germany, a country that despite its green reputation remains heavily reliant on this dirtiest of fossil fuels.
Environmental groups had called for a mass rally at the forest on Saturday but police cancelled the demo at short notice citing safety concerns.
Despite massively investing in renewables in recent years Germany still gets around 40 percent of its energy from coal — in part to offset the impact of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision after the Fukushima disaster to exit nuclear power by 2022.
The government admitted in June that it will miss its target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Rather than cutting CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, Europe’s top economy expects to come in at 32 percent.
“We will remain dependent on brown coal for a long while yet,” Frank Weigand, head of RWE’s power division, recently told German broadcaster ARD.