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COP23: Thousands protest German coal use ahead of UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn

Carrying colorful banners with slogans that read: “Revolution, not pollution,” “Frack off our land” and “Climate or coal chancellor?,” participants in Saturday’s anti-coal march in Bonn criticized the German government’s reliance on coal-powered plants for the country’s energy.

The former West German capital of Bonn is set to host the two-week climate conference, known as COP23, starting on Monday.

Demonstrators also highlighted the irony that this year’s conference is being held 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Europe’s biggest source of CO2 emissions – the large open-cast mines near Cologne and eastern Germany’s Lausitz region.

Organizers estimated the number of demonstrators to be around 25,000, while police put the number of protesters at 11,000.

Protesters sent a “clear signal” to the German government to boost the pace of climate protection, Sabine Minniger from the nonprofit organization Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), one of the NGOs which organized the demonstration, said.

Germany’s addiction to coal

Experts warn Germany is on course to spectacularly miss its 2020 climate target if it does not phase out coal soon, this, they add will further risk the country’s reputation as a leader in the global fight against climate change.

Demonstrators face-paint in central Bonn

“Coal has no future, the world is moving away from it. Germany has to follow suit, otherwise we will neither be a role model nor adhere to our international commitments,” Eberhard Brandes from WWF Germany told DW.

Almost a fifth of the European Union’s CO2 emissions come from coal power plants. Germany and Poland alone are responsible for half.

Despite Germany’s attempt to transition away from coal, 77 coal power plants remain on the grid – more than in any other country in Europe.

ICE-Sonderzug Train to Bonn zur 23. UN-Klimakonferenz (picture alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini)

From Berlin, a special ‘climate’ train brought guests to Bonn

While Italy, France, Finland and the Netherlands have recently announced their willingness to phase out the use of coal, the German government is still debating the way forward.

Environmentalists hope that political parties thrust by September’s federal election into negotiating the next coalition government in Berlin will drop coal and instead commit to sustainable sources such as wind and solar power.

The chairman of Germany’s version of Friends of the Earth, the Bund für Umwelt- und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND), Hubert Weiger, told those gathered in Bonn that Germany must renounce its 150-year industrial extraction of the fossil fuel to meet its share of the UNs climate rescue targets set in Paris in 2015.

“The federal government must start to consequently implement the agreed climate targets,” said Weiger. “Climate protection means coal exit.”

Bike protesters come from Cologne

Additionally, some 1,000 cyclists rode from Cologne, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) away, to Bonn to underscore the need to renounce fossil-fuel motoring.

“We want to show that it’s also possible with a bicycle,” one of the activists on wheels told DW.

Klimakonferenz Bonn COP23 Fahrraddemonstration (Getty Images/AFP/S. Gallup)

Cycling to Bonn to push climate goals

“We probably won’t be able to go entirely without cars and even with electric vehicles we need to change our behavior and take our bikes for short distances instead of a car.”

Saturday’s demonstration was the first of several expected in Bonn over the next two weeks.

Some 23,000 government and non-governmental delegates from 197 countries, chaired by the Pacific nation of Fiji, will focus on ways to implement the Paris target of restraining climate warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

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