German MP says Colombian open-pit mine hurts local environment amid Berlin’s plans to buy coal

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Issued on: 01/08/2022 – 12:24

EU countries deprived of Russian energy sources due to Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine are now turning to other suppliers. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to increase coal imports from Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest exporter. A member of the German parliament travelled to the country’s northeast to examine the environmental impact of the largest open-pit mine in Latin America. FRANCE 24 reports.


El Cerrejon in northeast Colombia is the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America. Run by Swiss company Glencore, the mine produced some 23.4 million tonnes of coal in 2021.

Germany is planning to buy more coal from Colombia amid Western sanctions on the Russian energy sector. Mining company officials say El Cerrejon has no negative environmental impact.

Kathrin Henneberger, a German Green Party representative, went to Colombia to research conditions resulting from the mine’s operations. “The mine has a significant impact on the region in terms of drinking water and also air pollution,” she said.

El Cerrejon consumes 23 million litres of water a day in La Guajira, a semi-desert region where water is in short supply. The company diverted the course of a river to expand its operation.

Close to the mine’s perimeter live communities of indigenous Wayuu people.

Leobarda Sierra, an indigenous leader, said: “Before, we had all the water we needed. Since the company came, we have run out.”

Colombian president-elect Gustavo Petro is pushing for an energy transition. But he also needs to replenish the country’s coffers. For now, a halt in coal mining is not on the agenda.

Click on the player above to watch the report by Pascale Mariani, Laura Chará and Juan Orozco.