FRANKFURT, Germany – Technological and industrial manufacturing giant Siemens will not pull out of a project to expand a coal mine in Australia, the company’s CEO said on Monday, despite fierce protests from climate activists.
The decision, confirmed by Joe Kaeser in a statement on Twitter, comes as the country is in the grips of devastating bushfires that have killed at least 27 people, destroyed thousands of homes and had severe impacts on several wildlife species.
Kaeser said that while he has “a lot of empathy for environmental matters, I do need to balance different interests of different stakeholders.”
“There is a legally binding and enforceable fiduciary responsibility to carry out this (...) contract,” he said.
Siemens will provide the signaling on the railway linking the Adani coal mine in the northeastern state of Queensland to Abbot Point Port for export.
The mine will extract millions of tons of thermal coal each year. Climate activists have long opposed its construction.
In the statement, released after Siemens held an extraordinary Managing Board Meeting, Kaeser thanked people for the “countless” messages he had received, especially from Australians who described how “their homes and their country is burning and suffering from these terrible fires.”
He said the project, while unpopular with climate activists, had been approved by the “government of Australia, the Highest Courts and – very important to us – the indigenous Wangan and Jagalingou people,” and added that there was “practically no legally and economically responsible way to unwind the contract.”
In defending the company’s position, he described how Siemens had been “the first global industrial company of significant size to commit to being carbon neutral by 2030” and “invests billions of euros every year to foster innovation and invest in technologies to reduce emissions.”
But the school strike action movement FridaysForFuture has pledged to continue protesting, saying on Twitter “You burn our Future, we burn your system!”
Climate activist Luisa Neubauer said that “If all fossil fuel contracts currently signed will be enforced, the 1.5° target will be missed. So companies supporting the Paris Agreements will have to start dropping out of such contracts. It’s math. And @JoeKaeser knows that.”
Kaeser offered Neubauer a position on the supervisory board of Siemens Energy last week, but the teenager rejected the offer.
Siemens’ decision is the latest blow to climate activists in Australia, whose prime minister, Scott Morrison, has come under fire for his response to the unprecedented bushfire crisis.
He issued an apology at the weekend after thousands of people demonstrated in several cities nationwide to call for his resignation, besides demanding more measures from the government against climate change and the ongoing fires.
Morrison is known as a staunch defender of polluting industries such as coal, and has repeatedly rejected the proven link between global warming and the aggravation of wildfires.