Germany has supplies of climate-damaging resources like oil, gas, coal, lithium. But faced with an energy crisis, its government, including the Greens, has opted to outsource extraction to Latin America. The party's betrayal of its core values has not gone unnoticed.
BERLIN — The experienced environmental activists from Ende Gelände, known for occupying coal mines, already have their sights set on the next target.
Their latest campaign was to defend the village of Lützerath in western Germany, close to the Dutch border, against eviction and demolition. The declared opponent is the energy company RWE. Its plans to promote lignite, the most polluting of coal types, were recently fought with a climate camp lasting several days and a demonstration to preserve the village.
It is precisely these protests that Germany's so-called traffic light coalition, especially the Green Party's cabinet members Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, fear. They call into question their party's essence: climate and environmental protection.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the accompanying energy embargo against Russia pose a fundamental question for the coalition: Should fossil fuel production in Germany be resumed as a temporary solution and thus evoke protests from its own base, or would it be better to increase imports from abroad and thus outsource the resistance?
The fact is that Germany still has coal, gas, oil and lithium deposits, the extraction of which would be much easier to control locally in terms of environmental standards and human rights than in Latin America or Africa.
The planned increase in coal imports from Colombia is particularly controversial. "Germany imported 2.28 million tons of hard coal from Colombia last year," according to Habeck's Ministry of Economic Affairs. According to the Federal Statistical Office, 5.5% of hard coal imports in 2021 came from the South American country.
The coal mine "El Cerrejón" actually stands for everything that the Greens have vehemently criticized and fought against so far.
Now, significantly more coal from Colombia is to be shipped across the Atlantic to Germany to compensate for the import ban from Russia. All those involved are keeping quiet about exactly how much: "Contract negotiations are a matter for the coal importers and are also conducted there, not at the state level," the ministry recently said.
The coal mine "El Cerrejón", called the "monster" by the locals, is one of the largest in the world with a total of 69,000 hectares. The gigantic mine in the north of the South American country actually stands for everything that the Greens have vehemently criticized and fought against so far. A notorious history of serious human rights violations by right-wing paramilitary groups, land displacement and forced relocation of indigenous people, brutal violence against climate and environmental activists, and a water shortage brought on by coal mining that has had dramatic consequences for the local, mostly destitute population.
Electric vehicles are no solution
In the past, all this has repeatedly led to protests by NGOs at annual general meetings of German energy companies – mostly alongside the Greens.
All that now seems forgotten. "Environmental and human rights organizations have been complaining about 'green colonialism' for some time now," says Klaus Schenck, the forest and energy spokesman for the NGO Save the Rainforest. In an interview, he cites an example: "In any case, it's no solution to replace the roughly 1.2 billion conventional motor vehicles worldwide with an even larger number of electric vehicles." This is because their production is extremely energy – and raw material – intensive.
The "green growth" propagated by politics and business continues "our excessive consumption and resource consumption in the Global North at the expense of the people in the South". Almost 100% of the raw materials required for this, such as steel, aluminum, copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and rare earths, as well as the oil required for the production of plastics, are imported from the Global South, says Schenck.
Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, cabinet members of Germany's Green Party
Bogus solutions to the climate crisis
The NGOs' criticism is specifically directed at the illusion spread by the German government that, with the help of the European-invented green energy transition, things will be fairer and more climate-friendly worldwide. "Bogus solutions to the climate crisis and species extinction at the expense of indigenous and local communities have a tradition in the West," said Niklas Ennen of the organization "Survival International," which campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples.
He criticizes the fact that projects and concepts devised in Berlin or Brussels are decided over the heads of the affected peoples: "Western conservation organizations and governments still ignore the right of self-determination of the people in the Global South in their environmental concepts and claim that the local population cannot take care of their environment. This is colonial, racist and just plain wrong."
Bogus solutions to the climate crisis and species extinction at the expense of indigenous and local communities have a tradition in the West.
This kind of "nature conservation" causes suffering and death in indigenous communities and does not save nature either, he said. "If we seriously want to slow down the loss of biodiversity and global warming, the most proven method is to protect as much indigenous land as possible and to recognize indigenous peoples as central," Ennen demands. More fundamentally, conservation organizations are calling for a systemic change in economic policy.
A bad deal for Colombia
For the new Colombian government, led by former guerrilla Gustavo Petro as president and environmental activist Francia Marquez as vice president, the German coal demand is an ideological problem. In the election campaign, the duo promised to initiate the phase-out of fossil fuel extraction, much to the approval of the German traffic light coalition.
But now comes the immoral offer from Berlin, forcing Bogota into a conflict of interests that knows only one answer. Actually, the poor country cannot do without the additional short-term revenue. In the end, President Petro will have to give the green light for the climate-damaging deal. And so, the landscape is sacrificed in Colombia and not in Germany.
Ende Gelände wants to prevent this and is now working on a joint strategy with Colombian activists to support their protest in Colombia. At the climate protest camp in Hamburg, the German activists demanded an immediate import stop of Colombian coal. In the meantime, alliances are being forged, information is being exchanged and cooperation beyond the Atlantic is being discussed.
Despite the highly controversial demand for coal from Germany, a few days ago during their visit to Colombia, Germany's Development Ministry promised that German development policy will increase its commitment to green and fair development in Latin America. However, the trip did not involve a visit to the “El Cerrejón” coal mine and talking to the affected population.