Siemens has refused to rip up a contract to provide infrastructure for a controversial Australian coal project, despite mounting pressure from victims of the country’s bushfires, environmental activists and some of the company’s own employees.
Joe Kaeser, the chief executive, said there was “no legally and economically responsible way” for Siemens to renege on an agreement to build rail signalling systems at the proposed A$2bn Carmichael mine in Galilee Basin, Queensland.
The German industrial giant has been the target of persistent protests since signing the contract, worth roughly €18m, with the Indian company Adani in December.
In a blog post on Sunday evening, Mr Kaeser stressed: “Had it been my own company, I may have acted differently.” He admitted that Siemens’ management “should have been wiser about this project beforehand”.
“While I do have a lot of empathy for environmental matters, I do need to balance different interests of different stakeholders, as long as they have lawful legitimation for what they do,” the Bavarian boss added. “This is my responsibility as a CEO.”
The Carmichael mine, which was approved by Australian state authorities in June, has long provoked the ire of climate campaigners. They warn that it will open up one of the world’s largest untapped coal basins, and that burning fuel dug out of the basin would pump 700m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year for over half a century.
Pressure group Market Forces, part of Friends of the Earth Australia, claims the mine “would increase shipping and industrial activity in the already stressed Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area”.
Mr Kaeser, who has often touted his green credentials and who introduced a policy that commits Siemens to carbon neutrality by 2030, had been personally petitioned by campaigners including Greta Thunberg.
On Friday, as protests took place in more than 40 German cities, he offered Germany’s Luisa Neubauer, a key figure in the Fridays For Future movement, a seat on a “sustainability board”, or even on the supervisory board of Siemens’ soon to be spun off energy business.
Ms Neubauer refused, countering that Mr Kaeser should appoint a climate scientist instead.
In response to Siemens’ decision, another prominent Fridays For Future activist, Nick Heubeck, tweeted that Mr Kaeser was “selling the credibility of the company as a future-oriented group”.
He added that the movement would have more to say at Siemens’ annual shareholders’ meeting next month.
One of Germany’s most vocal executives, Mr Kaeser has often waded into political debates, criticising the country’s hard-right AfD party, and calling on companies to put social cohesion above the needs of shareholders.
In 2018, he bowed to pressure to pull out of a conference in Saudi Arabia, following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.