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Protests and outrage as Siemens backs Aussie mine project

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Berlin (AFP)

Environmental activists across the world slammed German engineering conglomerate Siemens on Monday after it decided to carry on with a controversial coal mine project in Australia.

After holding talks with environmentalists in Berlin last week, CEO Joe Kaeser said Sunday that Siemens would go ahead with plans to provide rail infrastructure for the Carmichael mine in Queensland.

On Monday, activists from the Fridays for Future movement responded by protesting outside the company's offices in 15 German cities, including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.

In a statement on their website, Fridays for Future said Siemens' decision was "catastrophic", and that the mine "threatens worldwide efforts to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius."

- 'Destroy' reputation -

Australian climate activist Varsha Yajman, 17, told AFP that the decision would "destroy" Siemens' reputation.

"It is time for Kaeser to realise the consequences of his actions and give us the sustainable future we deserve."

Siemens, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2030, signed a contract in December to provide rail signalling services for the Carmichael project.

The proposed mine, owned by India's Adani group, has long been controversial, but anger over the multi-billion-euro project has been fanned by Australia's catastrophic bushfire season.

Amid growing calls for Siemens to quit the project, Kaeser met with leading Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer in Berlin on Friday and claimed he was "on the same side" as environmentalists.

On Saturday, Sweden's top climate activist Greta Thunberg also urged Kaeser to make what she said was "the only right decision".

Neubauer told AFP Monday that Siemens' decision was "disastrous".

"We're not talking just about one provider of technical materials. We're talking about a strategic decision by Siemens to contribute to a coal mine that's endangering the 2C target" laid out in the Paris climate deal, she said.

Kaeser announced on Sunday evening that Siemens would "fulfil their contractual obligations" on the project.

"While I do have a lot of empathy for environmental matters, I do need to balance different interests of different stakeholders," he said.

- 'No room for coal' -

Neubauer accused companies involved in financing fossil fuels of using "creative PR" to burnish their green credentials.

"Some companies around the world have now got a sense of what it means when the climate movement turns against you," she said.

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.

The United Nations says emissions must decline more than 7.5 percent annually in order to hit the 1.5C temperature goal laid out in the Paris deal.

Andrew Grant, head analyst at the Carbon Tracker think tank, told AFP that coal was facing an oversupply crisis, with known reserves containing enough fuel for the next 130 years.

"If we are serious about achieving our goals under Paris then there's just no room for new coal," he said.

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