It has been two years since the Hambach Forest was saved. A lawsuit by the BUND stopped the eviction planned by RWE. Forest squatters and climate justice activists ensured the necessary attention for the forest. Subsequently, the coal commission of the federal government and the coal exit law stipulated that the forest between Cologne and Aachen should be preserved. But what does that mean?
The North Rhine-Westphalian state government recently presented a key decision that is intended to determine more precisely. A “vague” plan, as the North Rhine-Westphalian BUND manager Dirk Jansen found on Tuesday at an online press conference. Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU) celebrates himself as the “savior” of the forest, but does not want to “create a secure basis for its permanent preservation and an ecological network of all remaining forests”, criticizes Jansen. The distance of 50 meters between the edge of the opencast mine and the forest is an “absurdity”.
Jansen also believes that the fact that RWE is allowed to excavate the area of the village of Manheim just to extract overburden to stabilize the slopes of the opencast mine is wrong. This would make it impossible for the Hambacher Wald to network with the Bürgewald Steinheide. However, this is important in order to preserve “forest functions” in the long term and to prevent the Hambach Forest from becoming “isolated”. Jansen demands that the state government buy back the forest from RWE, designate it as a protected area and transfer it to a foundation.
Scientific support is available for Jansen from Pierre Ibisch, who works at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development. On behalf of the Climate Alliance Germany, he prepared an expert opinion that shows how endangered the Hambach Forest is from the lead decision. “Obviously, no landscape-ecological expertise was incorporated into the development of the key decision,” says Ibisch. Overburden is being extracted in the vicinity of the forest and gravel pits continue to be operated. This harms the forest and increases “heat and drought stress”.
During an investigation in summer 2018, the Ibish team found that there was a temperature difference of up to 22 degrees between the coolest points in the forest and the warmest in the open pit. For the researcher from Eberswalde, one thing is clear: forest areas must be preserved and increased through reforestation. Cooling the landscape down through forest is also a key way of gaining time in the climate crisis.
The initiative Buirer for Buir has thought about what should happen apart from the forest in and around the Hambach Forest. Antje Grothus, who is active in the initiative and was a member of the coal commission as an open pit mine operator, imagines a “Hambach Forest Citizens’ Region”. At the latest with the corona crisis, the importance of local recreation and nature-based tourism became clear, explains Grothus. The forest network could go hand in hand with a re-use of the route of the old A4 autobahn, which leads once across the Hambach forest. You could become part of a cycling and hiking trail from Cologne to Aachen. The structural change around the forest can then be experienced, for example with a museum in the old Manheim village church. Antje Grothus is certain that this could become a tourist “highlight” with the “Hambacher Forst brand”.
With the concept of the citizen region, Grothus and the Buirer also want to be a »counterweight« for Buir to the structural change narrative of the state government, in which the focus is often on jobs and new industries. For the residents of the Rhenish Revier, it is also about gaining “quality of life”.