Near cli­mate con­fer­ence, vil­lage dis­ap­pears for coal

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Griff Witte and Luisa Beck

IMMERATH, Ger­many — The hos­pi­tal is gone. So are most of the houses, with more be­ing knocked down daily. Not even the bod­ies re­main in the tree-shaded ceme­tery, where cen­turies-old bones re­cently were dug up and moved.

There is far more dig­ging to come, enough to ex­tin­guish any trace that Immerath, a once-quaint farm­ing vil­lage in the fer­tile western Ger­many coun­try­side, ever ex­isted. Be­cause be­neath the rich soil lies a sub­stance even more valu­able: coal.

The de­mo­li­tion of Immerath, mak­ing way for the ex­pan­sion of mega-mines that will pro­duce

bil­lions of tons of car­bon emis­sions in the com­ing decades and leave a deep gash where vil­lages dat­ing to Ro­man times once stood, rep­re­sents the dark un­der­side of Ger­many’s ef­forts to ad­dress cli­mate change.

The growth of Ger­man coal mines at a time when the fuel is be­ing rapidly phased out else­where also shows how dif­fi­cult it can be for coun­tries, even ones that ag­gres­sively com­mit to cleaner tech­nolo­gies, to ac­tu­ally make the switch.

In the for­mer West Ger­man cap­i­tal of Bonn, the coun­try is host­ing a U.N. cli­mate con­fer­ence this month that is seen as crit­i­cal to global ef­forts to ful­fill pledges made two years ago in Paris.

But just an hour’s drive away is Immerath, which in its dy­ing days has be­come an em­blem of Ger­many’s strug­gle to break its heavy ad­dic­tion to brown coal, the dirt­i­est of all fos­sil fu­els.

“There’s no big­ger im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment than brown coal min­ing, and we’re the world cham­pion,” said Dirk Jansen, a leader of the lo­cal chap­ter of Friends of the Earth in Ger­many’s coal heart­land of North Rhine-Westphalia. “If we want to stop cli­mate change, we have to start here.”

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