Outrage in Germany as Siemens backs Aussie mine project

AFP/The Local
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Outrage in Germany as Siemens backs Aussie mine project
Protesters in Munich on Monday with a sign reading "No more words." Photo: DPA

Environmental activists across the world have slammed German engineering conglomerate Siemens after it decided to carry on with a controversial coal mine project in Australia.


After holding talks with environmentalists in Berlin last week, CEO Joe Kaeser said Sunday that Siemens would go ahead with plans to provide rail infrastructure for the Carmichael mine in Queensland.

On Monday, activists from the "Fridays for Future" movement responded by protesting in front of the company's offices in 15 German cities, including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.

In a statement on their website "Fridays for Future" said Siemens' decision was "catastrophic", and that the mine "threatens worldwide efforts to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius."

'Destroy' reputation

Australian climate activist Varsha Yajman, 17, told AFP that the decision would "destroy" Siemens' reputation.

"It is time for Kaeser to realize the consequences of his actions and give us the sustainable future we deserve."

Siemens, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2030, signed a contract in December to provide rail signalling services for the Carmichael project.

The proposed mine, owned by India's Adani group, has long been controversial, but anger over the multi-billion-euro project has been fanned by Australia's catastrophic bushfire season.

Amid growing calls for Siemens to quit the project, Kaeser met with leading "Fridays for Future" activist Luisa Neubauer in Berlin on Friday and claimed he was "on the same side" as environmentalists.

Neubauer - who turned down an supervisory board role she was offered at Siemens energy subsidiary - spoke of an "inexcusable mistake".

The 23-year-old climate campaigner tweeted that he decision concerned "is about responsibility of global corporations & about a coal mine that should not exist."

On Saturday, Sweden's top climate activist Greta Thunberg also urged Kaeser to make what she said was "the only right decision".

"It seems that Siemens have the power to stop, delay or at least interrupt the building of the huge Adani coal mine," Thunberg tweeted.

'Historic mistake'

But Kaeser announced on Sunday evening that Siemens would "fulfil their contractual obligations" on the project.

"While I do have a lot of empathy for environmental matters, I do need to balance different interests of different stakeholders," he said.

The CEO nonetheless pledged to "give environmental concerns more attention in the future" by setting up a sustainability committee.

Neubauer accused Siemens of having made an "historic mistake".

Toby Thorpe, from School Strike for Climate Australia, called the decision "appalling".

"Their support not only fuels climate change, but will fuel more natural disasters among the likes of the bushfire crisis in Australia."

By Monday afternoon, #Siemens and #Siemensfuelsfire were the two most commonly treading topics on Twitter in Germany, with one user stating that Siemens does not just "know about the climate crisis, but chooses to directly support the expansion of coal mining."

'No room for coal'

The open-cut Carmichael mine is set to become operational next year and produce up to 27 million tonnes of coal annually.

Adani spent years trying to secure private finance for the coal mine before announcing in 2018 it was self-financing a trimmed down, $2-billion version of the  project.

Supporters say the mine will bring hundreds of much-needed jobs to rural Queensland in eastern Australia.

But conservationists say the project threatens local vulnerable species and means coal will have to be shipped from a port near the already-damaged Great Barrier Reef.

Much of the coal from the mine will be burned in India, a country with some of the highest levels of air pollution on Earth.

The United Nations says emissions must decline more than 7.5 percent annually in order to hit the 1.5C temperature goal laid out in the 2015 Paris deal.

Andrew Grant, head analyst at the Carbon Tracker think tank, told AFP that coal was facing an oversupply crisis, with known reserves containing enough fuel for the next 130 years.

"If we are serious about achieving our goals under Paris then there's just no room for new coal," he said.


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