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Lignite mining and the Ende Gelände movement, Germany


Conflicts on lignite (brown coal) mining in Germany (west and east) are old. The EJatlas contains entries for several of them. They took a new turn in 2015 with the Ende Gelände movement which squarely linked up two issues: local damage from open cast coal mining and global climate change when coal is burnt.  In 2014, brown coal (lignite) electricity production in Germany rose to its highest level since 1990, despite the country’s campaign to shift to green sources of energy. A strong movement arose against this. The activist John Jordan reported with enthusiasm in August 2015 [1] : "I was with 1,500 others, many of whom had never broken any law for their beliefs before. Together we managed to shut down Europe’s biggest source of CO2 emissions: RWE’s lignite mines in the Rhineland in Germany. Around 800 of us were arrested, and hundreds of us refused to cooperate with the authorities by withholding our names and IDs.  It was the world’s largest act of disobedience against the mining of fossil fuels – and it might be the spark that ignites a rising, cross-border movement of disobedience for climate justice." He continued: "The protest was called Ende Gelände (Here and no further) – and it was direct action at its best. Not a symbolic gesture that just tells a story and makes an injustice visible, but an action that targeted the very source of the problem and stopped it in its tracks. Of course, the stories from the day are important, and will help build confidence within the movement. But the actual stopping of CO2 emissions themselves, the fact that the lignite coal – the dirtiest type of coal in the world – was not dug out and burned that day, is what counts. Ende Gelände was a collective act of resistance that for once felt proportionate to the scale of the emergency: catastrophic climate change.".

The action was repeated in 2016 at another lignite mine in Germany (in Lusatia, near Berlin), this time against Vattenfall and the Czech company EPH  which has acquired this asset on the 30th of September 2016. The activists wrote that for  decades,"Vattenfall has been destroying the region Lusatia in Eastern Germany to make money with coal ... EPH, too, has only one goal: Making money as quickly as possible. They want to continue the lignite mining business as long as they can, tearing down more villages. The money will disappear into dubious offshore company constructions instead of reserves; and very soon, once the lignite business is really not profitable any more, EPH will shirk any responsibility – and leave behind a destroyed region without facing its liabilities. Whether Vattenfall or EPH: investing in lignite mining means continuing a socially and ecologically devastating economic system. The community will have to pay for a “renaturalization” of the open cast pits; workers will be abandoned. Meanwhile, more CO2 is emitted, which further fuels catastrophic climate change". A demonstration and blockade was announced for Pentecost 2016. And the movement Ende Gelände went to Lusatia with nearly 4000 people to block lignite mining infrastructure. The movement sees itself as part of a world-wide uprising against extractivism.

Between the 4th and the 15th of May 2016 people of five continents carried out disruptive actions of civil disobedience against the infrastructure of the climate catastrophe. "Together we will show that the time has come to “Break Free from Fossil Fuels”".

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lignite mining and the Ende Gelände movement, Germany
State or province:Rhineland (and also Lusatia)
Location of conflict:Garzweiler (Rhineland)
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The companies RWE, Vattenfall and EPH are owners or (in the case of EPH) potential buyers of lignite mines in the Rhineland and in Lusatia. The mining area of Garzweiler near Cologne has the biggest single lignite deposit in Europe. Here, RWE mines just under 100 million tons a year used exclusively for electricity in the local power plants. The mine currently has a size of 48 km². Reserves reach 1.3 billion tons of lignite, which are to be extracted by 2045, according to the company.

In Lusatia (Lausitz), billions of tons of brown coal lie buried underneath a gentle landscape of pine forests, farm fields, and rural villages about 160 km south of Berlin, in what was once East Germany. In the past century, the landscape has been scarred and pitted by strip mines. In all, 136 villages in the Lausitz region have been destroyed to make way for massive strip mines since 1934. Most of the destruction took place after World War II, when the East German government depended on brown coal to power its cities and factories. Pollution from the mines and from primitive, dirty, coal-fired power plants was a major issue for the democracy activists whose efforts eventually helped topple the Berlin Wall. When Germany was reunified in 1989, many of the outdated plants were shut down, and locals thought the era of forced resettlement was over. But brown call has made a comeback,

Lignite being Germany’s most important domestic energy source, such assets risks to become "stranded" assets with no financial value if burning of lignite is banned because of local opposition (entire villages are swallowed up by the open pit mines) and because of the need to prevent climate change by "keeping coal in the hole". Peaceful direct actions have taken place in 2015 and 2016 at big lignite mines in the Rhineland and in Lusatia (Lausitz), stopping operation for a few hours/days. Vattenfall's power stations in Germany had a capacity of more than 8,000 megawatts. Vattenfall in 2016 was trying to sell off its lignite mines in Lusatia (escaping also its liabilities) to EPH, from the Czech Republic. Vattenfall wanted to sell for 2 to 3 billion €, but finally had to pay EPH 1,7 billion for EPH taking over the socio-environmental liabilities in the region.

In both sites together (Rhineland and Lusatia) the directly affected population reaches about 30,000.

Project area:15,000 (in both locations)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:30,000
Start of the conflict:2015
Company names or state enterprises:NUON from Netherlands
RWE (RWE) from Germany
EPH from Czech Republic
Relevant government actors:Regional governments.
Police forces.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Ende Gelände.
“Break Free from Fossil Fuels”.
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Large scale civil disobedience to stop lignite mining


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Militarization and increased police presence


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Demonstrations will continue at big lignite open cast mines and coal fired power stations in Germany
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:So far, no success in stopping the lignite mines and local power stations for more than a few hours, but the movement is growing.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Tadzio Muller (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation), on climate justice, COP 21, and the links to Ende Gelände.

The historian Andreas Malm at the Schwarze Pumpe coal fired power plant in Lusatia, May 2016

Tadzio Muller, Climate Justice and Degrowth: a tale of two movements, 10 March 2015.

Corporate Europe Observatory. Ende Gelände v. Vattenfall. June 2nd 2016

[1]The day we stopped Europe’s biggest polluter in its tracks, by John Jordan

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

People power shuts down German coal mine

Ende Gelände: Here And No Further , 15 August 2015

Ende Gelände! / Keep it in the ground! Part 1: Overcome the motorway

The campaign webpage

Ende Gelände, Lusatia, May 2016

Other comments:These are the principles of this direct action, non-violent movement: "Nicht legal aber legitim. Auch wenn unsere Aktionen nicht legal sein mögen – legitim sind sie allemal. Denn die Zeit drängt: Wenn Kohle, Öl und Gas nicht von jetzt an im Boden bleiben, lassen sich katastrophale Folgen für Millionen Menschen kaum noch aufhalten. Deshalb brechen wir gezielt das Hausrecht der Konzerne, die die Naturzerstörung verantworten und vorantreiben. Unsere Aktion ist einer der vielen Kämpfe weltweit gegen Extraktivismus und die Ausbeutung fossiler Energien."

Meta information

Last update18/08/2019



Source: Ende Gelände