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Forest or fuel: decision time for Germany

19 Sep 2018
Ancient forest at risk

By the team at UN Environment

A battle is raging in the courts, on the ground and in the hearts and minds of many Germans over a remnant of ancient forest which a mining company wants to clear to extend a lignite mine. Only about 300 hectares remain of the12,000-year-old Hambach Forest in northwestern Germany near the border with Belgium and France. 

Coal is among the worst sources of toxic air pollutants globally, and lignite or brown coal is the dirtiest and most polluting fuel in Europe. It creates harmful fine dust and particulates which reduce air quality.

Germany has a reputation as an environmental trailblazer with numerous renewable energy installations and generous feed-in tariffs for households generating their own electricity from renewables. The country has opted not to use nuclear power to generate electricity after 2022, which means that without coal, at present, it cannot meet the demand for electricity.

“The Paris Climate Agreement has a specific article on the protection of forests, and Germany plays a lead role in helping developing countries to save forests in the tropics. It sends wrong signals in this context if forests at home are replaced by coal mining,” says UN Environment forests and landscapes expert Tim Christophersen.

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