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Germany's Greens must squeeze coalition on climate after coal mine protest

Germany's Greens must squeeze coalition on climate after coal mine protest
Germany's Greens must squeeze coalition on climate after coal mine protest Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
By Reuters
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By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN - Germany's Greens party can weather disapproval from its environmentalist base over its role in approving the demolition of a village to expand a coal mine if it uses that concession to accelerate other climate policies, activists and analysts say.

Two Greens ministers fronted the government decision to demolish Luetzerath village in western Germany, a move that led to scuffles between activists and police in protests over the past week. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was briefly detained.

The government, in which the Greens are a coalition partner, agreed to the mine expansion by RWE on condition the energy firm phased out coal eight years earlier than planned in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Greens viewed that compromise as a win, although the move incensed many environmental activists, particularly as the coal being mined is lignite, one of the most polluting types.

"They keep talking about the 1.5 degree target, while it is clear we will break it by 2030 at the latest," said Jakob Beyer from the Last Generation climate group, referring to a goal to stop the planet warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Other Greens supporters saw it as a pragmatic move when Germany needs to replace dwindling Russian gas supplies amid the Ukraine crisis but they said it should be followed by squeezing more from coalition partners to make a faster shift towards renewable energy and to push other climate policies.

"Many people understand that other things have been prioritised for now, but this understanding will be exhausted at some point," Sascha Mueller-Kraenner, the national managing director of DUH environmental group, told Reuters.

He said the Greens needed to secure a faster phase-out for using coal in power generation than the 2038 government agreed deadline, a demand resisted in many eastern German states amid an energy crunch caused by war in Ukraine.


"We will continue to fight to ensure that climate protection is implemented, be it on the issue of gas deals, the coal phase-out in east Germany or the transport turnaround," Greens lawmaker Lisa Badum said.

The party will be measured against the green elements of the government's agenda to ensure renewable energy covers 80% of power output by 2030 and to clean up transport and construction, which missed annual greenhouse gas emission targets in 2022.

But analysts say the Greens are facing bureaucratic hurdles and resistance from some regional governments to the renewables rollouts, and they still need to win over the FDP junior coalition partner on some areas of the environmental agenda.

"We have the impression that the Greens simply made a lot of compromises last year and have to fight a little harder for climate issues in the government," Mueller-Kraenner said.

Still, the party is benefiting from the popularity of the Greens leaders, Economy Minister Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who took a lead on the mine saga. Polling shows the party would secure 18% of the vote if an election was held now, four points above the 2021 vote.

"The Greens have presented a pragmatically rational style of politics and that has helped them become stronger," Manfred Guellner, head of pollster Forsa said.

Such a pragmatic approach could help broaden the party's appeal. But it still requires a balancing act to ensure it does not split a party where some want much swifter action.

"If the Greens no longer act together with the climate movement ... then of course that weakens our attempt at a climate-friendly transformation," said Greens lawmaker Kathrin Henneberger, who fought to save Luetzerath village.

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