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‘We’ll continue our protests’: Environmental activists confront Siemens bosses in Munich

Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser faced environmental protests inside and outside the group's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

'We'll continue our protests': Environmental activists confront Siemens bosses in Munich
Demonstrators in Munich on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Outraged by the group's sticking to a contract to supply rail equipment to a massive Australian coal mining project, demonstrators were rallying outside the Munich Olympiahalle ahead of the 10:00am kickoff.

A group of around 100 were on the scene from early in the morning, some forming a human chain.

Late Tuesday, Greenpeace had draped a banner from the company's headquarters reading “Bush fires start here”.

“We will continue our protests for as long as Siemens doesn't back down,” said Helena Marschall, a representative of the movement, at a Tuesday press conference.

Marschall herself is slated to speak inside the venue later Wednesday, while the demonstrators plan to urge the company to “abandon coal” at a larger protest in the afternoon.

Kaeser kept activists and observers on tenterhooks for weeks as he decided whether to uphold a contract with India's Adani group related to its Carmichael mine project in Australia.

In the end, he stuck to Siemens' agreement to supply the rail signalling equipment for the massive open-cast mine, not far from the iconic natural landmark of the Great Barrier Reef.

READ ALSO: Outrage in Germany as Siemens back Aussie mine project

'Fulfil contractual obligations'

Groups like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future have homed in on the shareholder meeting as an opportunity to renew the pressure on Siemens.

“What's more important: a small financial loss in the short term, or the disastrous consequences such a project will have for generations?” Marschall said.

She and other environmentalists have been invited to speak inside the cordon by a group of Siemens shareholders.

In mid-January, CEO Kaeser met leading German Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer after protests across the country against Siemens.

But he later said in a statement: “We must fulfil our contractual obligations” relating to the 18-million-euro ($22 million) deal.

Protesters at the meeting. Photo: DPA

“Only being a credible partner whose word counts also ensures that we can remain an effective partner for a greener future,” Kaeser insisted.

Nevertheless, the company plans to create a “Sustainability Committee” with powers to block environmentally questionable projects.

Siemens says it backs the 2015 Paris Agreement and aims to become carbon-neutral by 2030.

27 mn tonnes of 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 notes that the 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 world's highest levels of air pollution.

By Ralf Isermann with Tom Barfield in Frankfurt

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CLIMATE CHANGE

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote ‘of a century’

Tens of thousands of climate activists including Greta Thunberg descended on German cities Friday ahead of the weekend general election to crank up the pressure on the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote 'of a century'
Greta Thunberg and other climate activists in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Speaking at a rally in front of the Reichstag parliament building in the run-up to Sunday’s poll, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters that they needed to hold Germany’s political leaders to account past election day.

“It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough… not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement,” on curbing climate change, she said.

“Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets.”

As Germany’s top parties hold final rallies ahead of Sunday’s vote, the Fridays for Future youth marches claim the political class has let down the younger generation.

“The political parties haven’t taken the climate catastrophe seriously enough,” Luisa Neubauer, who runs the group’s German chapter, said.

She said Germany, as one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends.

“That is why we are calling this the election of a century,” she said.

The race has boiled down to a two-way contest between Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the moderate finance minister, and Armin Laschet from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Polls give Scholz a small lead of about 26 percent over Laschet at around 22 percent, with the candidate from the ecologist Greens, Annalena Baerbock, trailing in the mid-teens.

Despite the urgency of the climate issue for a majority of Germans, particularly in the aftermath of deadly floods in the west of the country in July, this has failed to translate into strong support for the relatively inexperienced Baerbock.

She told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped Friday’s rally would give her party “tailwinds” heading into the vote. “The next government has to be a climate government – that will only work with a strong Green party.”   

More than 400 “climate strikes” are planned across Germany, with the Swedish Thunberg, who inspired the movement, expected to speak outside the Reichstag parliament building.

Thousands gathered on the lawn there from late morning bearing signs reading “Climate now, homework later”, “It’s our future” and simply “Vote”.

“Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse,” 14-year-old pupil Louise Herr told AFP.

Gathering under the banners “We are young and need the world!” and “Everything for the climate”, the activists are arguing that “climate crisis is this century’s biggest problem”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

 ‘Unfair burden’

The activists will be part of a global climate strike in more than 1,000 communities around the world, Fridays for Future said.

Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The Paris agreement set a goal of reducing global warming by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration to go further and cap the rise to 1.5 Celsius.

Despite Merkel’s vocal support of climate protection measures, Germany has repeatedly failed in recent years to meet its emission reduction targets under the pact.

In a landmark ruling in April, Germany’s constitutional court found the government’s plans to curb CO2 emissions “insufficient” to meet the targets of the Paris agreement and placed an “unfair burden” on future generations.

The Fridays for Future movement launched global school strikes more than two years ago arguing that time was running out to stop irreversible damage from the warming of the planet.


Demonstrators take to the streets in Berlin to call for urgent climate action. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Luca Bruno

In September 2019, it drew huge crowds in cities and towns around the world including 1.4 million protesters in Germany, according to organisers.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on its weekly rallies but the election campaign in Europe’s top economy has revitalised the
movement.

“The climate crisis cannot be solved through party politics alone,” Thunberg told reporters ahead of her appearance in Berlin.

“We can’t just vote for change, we also have to be active democratic citizens and go out on the streets and demand action.”

READ ALSO:

Greens as junior partner?

Around 60.4 million Germans are called to the polls on Sunday and most voters cite climate protection among their top priorities.

All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.

However the Fridays for Future activists have said even the Greens’ official programme falls short of what is needed to stick to the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise.

The Greens want to end coal energy use by 2030 instead of the current 2038. They also want the production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While the party is expected to fall far short of its ambition to win the election Sunday and place Baerbock in the chancellery, polls indicate it has a good chance of joining a ruling coalition as a junior partner under Scholz or Laschet.

By Deborah Cole

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