Thousands of anti-coal protestors form 8km 'human chain' against lignite mining. Photographer: Bogusz Bilewski

Thousands of anti-coal protestors form 8km ‘human chain’ against lignite mining. Photographer: Bogusz Bilewski

Vattenfall’s plans to grow its coal mining operations in Germany’s Lausitz region were cast into doubt today. The newly-elected Swedish government, made up of Social Democrats and Greens, is calling on the state-owned energy giantVattenfall to “terminate the expansion of brown coal” – otherwise known as lignite.

The move calls into question the company’s plans to enlarge its mines in east Germany, though campaigners point out there has been no statement on what the government intends to do with the existing vast lignite mines already operated by Vattenfall, leaving the door open to their resale. Many Swedes would rather retain control in order to stop the coal being extracted and burned.

While it remains to be seen what happens to  individual projects – including in Lausitz – all of Sweden’s leading political parties have previously shown support for halting expansion in the region, indicating it could be the beginning of the end for this out-dated energy source.

“The Swedish decision is a great success for the anti-coal protest and underlines that the coal age is ending. If Germany is taking its climate targets seriously, it also needs to prepare for an exit from coal.” – Greenpeace energy expert Anike Peters

The end of Vattenfall’s dirty coal expansion signals Sweden’s first step in the vital clean energy transition, as the new government moves towards its goal of 100% renewables. Lignite is the one of the dirtiest forms of energy, and each year, Vattenfall’s existing coal plants in the Lausitz region release as much CO2 as the whole of Sweden.

Proposing a halt to lignite expansion, the new Swedish government stressed Vattenfall’s “future must lie in the development of renewable energies, and not in coal and gas,” recognising the need to transition away from harmful fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources.

The government’s expressed shift to renewables shows that leaders are beginning to listen to citizens’ call for an end to dirty energy. The vast majority of Swedes oppose Vattenfall’s new mining plans, and last month thousands of people joined an 8km Human Chain stretching across the German-Polish border resisting the expansion of lignite.

If left to go ahead, the plans would decimate entire villages, ruin livelihoods, cause significant risk to public health and threaten the EU’s climate targets. This week’s announcement has been welcomed as a “great success” for the protesters, and an important signal that “the age of coal is over”.

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