Greta Thunberg was Released by German Police After being Detained at a Protest at a Coal Mine.

Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was released by German police on Tuesday evening after being detained earlier in the day at a protest against the expansion of a coal mine in the western village of Lützerath. 

A police spokesman in the city of Aachen confirmed the news to CNN on Wednesday. 

The spokesman, Max Wilmes, stated that Thunberg was only briefly detained and once her identity was established, she was free to go. He added that due to the recognition of her name, police expedited the identification process, and she then waited for other protesters to be released.

After her release, Thunberg quickly returned to her campaigning efforts on Wednesday and tweeted "Climate protection is not a crime." 

In a statement, she said, "Yesterday, I was part of a group that peacefully protested the expansion of a coal mine in Germany. We were surrounded by police and then detained, but were later released that evening." 

She was part of a large group of protesters that broke through a police barrier and entered a coal pit, which authorities were unable to fully secure, according to police spokesman Christof Hüls. This was the second time Thunberg has been detained at the site, he added.

Since last Wednesday, German police have removed hundreds of activists from Lützerath. Some of the activists have been at the site for over two years, as reported by CNN. They have been occupying the homes that were abandoned by former residents after they were evicted, mostly by 2017, to clear the way for the lignite coal mine.

In 2022, the German government reached an agreement with RWE, the company that owns the mine, to expand into Lützerath in exchange for RWE ending its use of coal by 2030, instead of 2038. 

Once the eviction of the activists and former residents is completed, RWE plans to construct a 1.5-kilometer (0.93-mile) perimeter fence around the village, sealing off its buildings, streets and sewers before they are demolished.

Thunberg tweeted on Friday that she had traveled to Lützerath to protest the expansion of the mine. On Saturday, she joined thousands of people who were demonstrating against the planned destruction of the village. 

While addressing the protesters, Thunberg said, “The carbon is still in the ground. And as long as the carbon is in the ground, this struggle is not over.”

Hüls said Thunberg had unexpectedly returned to the protest on Sunday, when she was detained for the first time, and then again on Tuesday.

The expansion of the coal mine is a crucial issue for climate activists. They argue that continuing to use coal for energy will result in higher greenhouse gas emissions, and will violate the Paris Climate Agreement's goal to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Lignite is considered the dirtiest type of coal, which is already the most polluting fossil fuel.

"We need to put a stop to the ongoing destruction of our planet and the sacrificing of people for the sake of short-term economic growth and corporate greed," Thunberg stated. 

Protests and conflicts between activists and police have been happening throughout this month, and images from these protests show police officers in riot gear removing the protesters. 

Over 1,000 police officers have been involved in the operation to evict the protesters. Most of the structures in the village have been cleared and replaced with excavating equipment.

RWE and Germany's Green Party, which is a member of the country's ruling coalition, both deny that the expansion of the mine will result in an increase in overall emissions. They argue that European regulations allow for extra carbon emissions to be offset.

However, multiple reports on climate change have emphasized the need to quickly shift towards clean energy and away from fossil fuels. Recent research also suggests that Germany may not require additional coal. 

An August report by the international research platform Coal Transitions found that even if coal plants were to operate at full capacity until the end of this decade, they already have more coal than they need from existing sources.

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