Several Siemens offices were surrounded by activists this week over the firm’s refusal to pull out of the Carmichael coal mine.
To some, Siemens has taken a principled decision not to let down its customer and shareholders and to stick to a contractual agreement.
The mine, run by India’s Adani Group, with an estimated 2.3 billion tonnes of coal reserves, would be one of the world’s largest with an output as high as 60 million tonnes a year.
The Galilee Basin is one of the world’s great untapped coal resources with no operational mines.
The North Antelope Rochelle in Wyoming is the only mine that would be more productive.
Greenpeace estimates that, at its projected capacity, the Australian mine’s output would generate 128 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, exceeding the annual emissions from Sweden and Norway combined.
The German protests have intensified following the huge bushfires in Australia that are thought to have killed nearly 30 people and hundreds of thousands of animals.
Siemens won a €18-million contract with Adani last year to build railway signalling to transport coal about 350km to the coast for export, through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
However, the engineering giant has promised to make its operations carbon-neutral by 2030.
Sweden’s Greta Thunberg tweeted over the weekend: “It seems that @SiemensDE have the power to stop, delay or at least interrupt the building of the huge Adani coal mine in Australia. Please help pushing them to make the only right decision.”
Activists say it is possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C above average pre-industrial temperatures if firms abandon contracts that help to extract fossil fuels.
Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser said there was “practically no legally or economically responsible way” to abandon the agreement without harming shareholders. “While I do have a lot of empathy for environmental matters, I do need to balance different interests of different stakeholders,” he told the media.
The German Fridays for Future movement, led by Luisa Neubauer, 23, led a rally in her native Hamburg, along parallel protests across the country, including at Siemens’ headquarters in Munich.
Neubauer tweeted: “As leaders keep failing, ultimately hope derives from the people. Leadership in the 21st century: if you happen to make an irresponsible decision against the climate … and thousands of voices draw your attention towards that – you listen, you reflect, you realise what’s at stake, you reverse.”
Luisa Neubauer speaks to Greta Thunberg in Germany last March. Picture credit: Wikimedia