Global engineering company Siemens will not pull out of a contract at the new Adani coalmine in Australia, rejecting calls from climate campaigners including Greta Thunberg.
President and CEO of Siemens, Joe Kaeser, announced Monday that after reviewing the rail signalling contract the company had “a legally binding and enforceable fiduciary responsibility.”
He said: “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.”
He said the company, based in Germany, “should have been wiser about this project beforehand” and claimed had it been his own company, he may have “acted differently”.
He added that the company “fundamentally shares the goal of making fossil fuels redundant to our economies over time”.
Campaigners said the decision was “shameful” and would damage its reputation and undermine its own climate policies. Siemens says it is one of the first companies to have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030.
The decision on the contract, reportedly worth $30m, comes as Australia is in the grip of an unprecedented bushfire crisis that has claimed at least 27 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and likely pushed several species towards extinction, scorching millions of hectares of unique habitat and killing more than a billion animals.
Explaining his decision, Kaeser said he was assured by a December 2019 letter from Resources Minister Matt Canavan that the mine, in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, had passed all legal obstacles.
Canavan wrote to Kaeser in December with a plea “not to be intimidated by the noisy anti-coal minority targeting the Adani Carmichael mine project and companies providing services to it.”
He wrote: “If the protestors achieve their goals of ending coalmining by bullying companies into submission, the result would be millions more people without a home, without access to electricity and without as much hope as they otherwise could have.”
In the statement, he said the project was also “approved” by the indigenous Wangan and Jagalingou people which was “very important to us”.
That approval is strongly disputed by a group of Wangan and Jagalingou people. Adani took court action to prevent that group, led by Adrian Burragubba, from setting up camp on the land.
The Queensland Government in 2019 extinguished native title over Wangan and Jagalingou to enable the mining project to proceed.
Kaeser said he was personally “moved” by messages from Australians who had “described that their homes and their country is burning and suffering from these terrible fires”.
The Adani coalmine will extract an initial 10m tonnes of thermal coal per year from a site 300km inland and transport it along a railway line to Adani’s Abbot Point Port for export.
Kaeser said there were competitors to the railway signalling contract the company signed on 10 December 2019, which meant “whether or not Siemens provides the signaling, the project will still go ahead”.
Last week Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said Siemens had “the power to stop, delay or at least interrupt the building of the huge Adani coalmine in Australia” and people should push the company “to make the only right decision”.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale had also written to Siemens, and warned the company risked “reputational damage” over the deal.
Galilee Blockade spokesperson Ben Pennings said: “Siemens has just trashed their billion dollar reputation for a $30m contract. Their reckless indifference to the suffering of Australians will be judged harshly, now and in the history books.”
“Siemens’ expertise is vital to the Adani coal railway and there is too much at stake to give up. Citizens will escalate their protests until Siemens listens to the science and choose the right side of history.
“Adani will never have social licence to build a new thermal coalmine in Australia. Our challenge is to turn this discontent into civil disobedience powerful enough to overcome any government repression.”
Australian Conservation Foundation senior campaigner Christian Slattery said the Siemens announcement, “while bushfires rage in Australia, is nothing short of shameful”.
He said: “The company has shown its true colours with this decision. It has a climate change policy, but it is hollow and empty. Sadly, Siemens has shown it is no better than the fossil fuel companies it works with.”
The Galilee Basin has been identified as one of the largest untapped sources of coal in the world, and campaigners and scientists have warned the Adani mine will open the way to several other coal mining projects in the region.
Slattery added: “If constructed, the infrastructure for Adani’s mine will open the Galilee Basin to one of the largest expansions of thermal coal mining on the planet.
“Siemens claims to support the Paris Agreement, but now it is committed to work on one of the world’s biggest carbon bombs.”
“The unfolding bushfire crisis in Australia, which has killed at least 28 people and more than one billion native animals is a terrifying foretaste of the climate change future if more coal mines are dug.”
An Adani spokesperson said: “We are pleased to be working with Siemens as the company is known for its exceptional experience in building rail signalling infrastructure around the world.
“With construction of the Carmichael Project well and truly under way we have repeatedly demonstrated that we will not be intimidated or deterred from delivering on our promises to regional Queenslanders, Australians and people in developing nations who desperately need affordable energy to help lift them out of poverty.”