Near climate conference, village disappears for coal
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.”