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Hambach forest occupation against brown coal mining, Germany


The Hambach forest, located in Rhineland, Germany, has been one of the few remaining old growth forests in Germany. It has also been a concession area for the expansion of one of Germany’s largest brown coal open cast mines, operated by the RWE Power AG Company. Since 2012, environmental activists have been occupying the forest to avoid further deforestation as well as CO2 emissions driving climate change (1).

Once covering an area of 5,500ha, the Hambach forest has had a history of 12,000 years of uninterrupted existence and ecological evolution, and as such has been home to many species ranging from rare plants to endangered birds and bats. In 1978, the area came under a brown coal mining concession, granted to the RWE Power AG Company, which soon turned large parts of the forest into a large open cast mine expanding over 8,500ha, requiring the relocation of villages. While nowadays a small forest area is still remaining, almost complete clearing will be required to fully develop the mine until 2030. Moreover, in order to give way for the development of the mine, part of the national Highway A4 needed to be realigned, further driving habitat fragmentation as well as drastically affecting quality of life of the local population.

First efforts to stop mining became strongly visible in 2004, when Greenpeace activist seized a bulldozer for a few days. Moreover, the citizens group “Aktionsgemeinschaft der Bürgerinitiativen gegen die Verlegung der A 4” was created to oppose the highway realignment, filing a lawsuit in 2009 against the company in cooperation with the NGO BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), which however could not stop it (2). In an effort to save the remaining forest from deforestation and to avoid the devastating environmental impacts associated to open cast mines, such as drastic landscape change, toxic emission of heavy metals, and vast amounts of CO2 emissions (3), environmental activists started to occupy the forest on April 14, 2012 (1). The activists and EJOs blamed the company to develop their activities in spite of the biological uniqueness of the forest, which under EU law should be declared as conservation area (3). However, only a few areas with less than 220ha have been declared as Natura2000 habitats, while the remaining areas were allowed to be further developed. According to BUND, proper environmental impact assessments were not conducted, although required. Until 2030, around 5,200 villagers will have undergone relocation in order to make room for the mine (1;2;3).

Resistance activities are ongoing and have been based on effective organization among activists, targeting the occupation of forest areas and trees to avoid deforestation. While the first occupation endured 6 months, during November 2012, 600 police officers evicted the activists from their tree homes, as well as from an underground tunnel system, build by the activists 6 meters below ground to prevent eviction. However, occupation continued and activists started to establish a base camp at the surrounding meadows to continue organizing their environmental justice activities. Many forest occupations and evictions, but also trials and releases have followed. The situation sharpened in October 2014, when activists were accused of having used violence against security guards and workers (1). Activists however declared that security workers attacked them with pepper spray, beat one of them unconscious and tied them up after trying to block deforestation activities in a non-violent way (4). The conflicts surrounding the remaining forest area are currently ongoing.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Hambach forest occupation against brown coal mining, Germany
State or province:Nordrhein-Westfalen
Location of conflict:Hambach
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Coal extraction and processing
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Construction work started on October 15, 1978 (2).

According to BUND (3;4), the project details are as follows:

Concessions period: 1978-2040

Areal requirements: 8,500ha, of which 4,100ha are old growth forests (Hambach forest)

Total coal stock: 2,400,000,000 tons

Annual coal production: around 40,000,000 tons/year

Annual CO2 emissions: around 30,000,000 tons/year

Annual fine dust emissions: around 480,000 kg/year, containing 500 kg of mercury, as well as cadmium, lead and other heavy metals.

Displaced population: 3,000 until 2014, 5,200 until 2030

No information on total investment could be found. Investment for relocating the highway amounted to 7,800,000€ (equals 8,834,592$ as of 10/02/2015) (5)

Project area:8,500
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:5,200 person displaced (plus negative health impacts on surrounding villages)
Start of the conflict:15/10/1978
Company names or state enterprises:RWE power (RWE) from Germany
Kötter Security from Germany - private security, services
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Aktionsgemeinschaft der Bürgerinitiativen gegen die Verlegung der A 4;
Hambacher forst occupation movement;
BUND (friend of the earth Germany);

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
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsdrastic decrease in air quality, exposure to heavy metals
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Activists demanded the conservation of the remaining forest area, opposed the realignment of the highway and protested for climate justice and a general stop of coal mining. These alternatives could not be pushed through.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the environmental justice actions successfully delayed the project activities and brought large media attention to the issue, the project could not be stopped and is currently ongoing.

Sources & Materials

(5) RWE on the realignment of the highway A4 (accessed 10/04/2015)

(1) Blog from the forest occupation movement (accessed 10/02/2015)

(4) WDR news on recent violence in the Hambach forest (accessed 10/02/2015)

(3) BUND on the Hambach open cast mine (accessed 10/02/2015)

(2) Wikipedia on the Hambach open cast mine (accessed 10/02/2015)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Short video (english) about the Hambach forest occupation

Photos on flickr

Meta information

Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) arnim.scheidel "at"
Last update18/08/2019



KlimaCamp2014 - Hambacher Forst


Forest occupation and evictions

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