Achieving mitigation targets under the Paris Agreement will depend on the early retirement of coal mines and plants over the next decade. In the absence of sufficiently stringent demand-side policies, supply-side injunctions provide a potential avenue to expedite the decline of coal. In many coal-producing jurisdictions, the law provides grounds to revoke coal mining permits. Recent plans to phase out coal use in Germany provide an interesting testing ground for this concept. We study the case of permits granted to RWE Power AG to continue operating Europe’s largest opencast lignite mine, situated at the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). We conduct two complementary assessments: (i) a legal analysis finding that German law provides several grounds for the revocation of coal mining permits, particularly when linked to quantifiable damages to local ecosystems and communities; and (ii) an economic analysis using natural capital accounting to quantify the environmental and societal costs associated with alternative scenarios of continued and halted mining activity. We find the net present value of gains from immediately halting operations at the Hambach lignite mine to be €98–208 billion over 34-years, equivalent to 13–30% of NRW’s annual GDP. Health-related savings from avoided air pollution are 6.5 times greater than costs of replacing lost capacity with new renewable energy and battery storage infrastructure and two orders of magnitude greater than costs of compensating laid-off mining workers.


Rafaty, R., Srivastav, S. & Hoops, B. (2020). 'Revoking coal mining permits: an economic and legal analysis'. Climate Policy, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2020.1719809
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