JONATHAN PAUL MARSHALL: Siemens and Adani

German company Siemens has decided to support the Adani Carmichael mine, by providing a signalling system for the rail line. However, their justification seem more about fulfilling their recently signed contract, than preserving a functional ecology, or discovering the problems with business deals in advance.

Siemens have decided to support the Adani mine, and the intensification of climate change because of “contractual obligation”.

This is their email to those who wrote to them objecting to their support.

Dear all,

We just finished our extraordinary Siemens Managing Board Meeting. We evaluated all options and concluded: We need to fulfil our contractual obligations. Also, we will establish an effective Sustainability Board to better manage environmental care in the future. Read here the reasons for the decision. (sie.ag/2FoFpAt).

Sincerely,

Joe Kaeser

On the website, Siemens deny there is any evidence connecting “this project” with the bushfires. Of course not. The project is not running yet; it can have nothing to do with the current bushfires. However, burning more coal makes climate driven bushfires more likely and probably worse. This project will add massive amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, and consumes massive amounts of water. If Australia has more seasons like the current one, we will continue to lose bush, agriculture and water. The mine will not make things better. Increased Greenhouse gas emissions probably spur on the unprecedented fires that have burnt throughout the world this year. This is not just a problem for Australia.

Siemens has “pledged carbon neutrality by 2030”. This is a good thing, but it is odd to try and reach carbon neutrality by increasing other people’s lack of carbon neutrality. This is as absurd as the Australian government’s argument that carbon emissions from burning our coal, are not our problem, if other people buy it. Greenhouse gas emissions anywhere affect the whole world’s lack of carbon neutrality.

Siemens correctly says the project is approved. Australian governments have approved, and indeed made the mine as easy as possible, for example, gifting it infinite amounts of water in drought conditions. However, it is not unambiguously true that the local Aboriginal people are all in favour, or the Queensland government may not have had to rescind land rights claims to the area.

As might be expected, Minster Matthew Canavan wrote a letter to Siemens in support of the project. It is quoted on the website and dated December 18, 2019. He writes:

“The Australian people clearly voted to support Adani at the federal election in May 2019, especially in regional Queensland. It would be an insult to the working people of Australia and the growing needs of India to bow to the pressure of anti-Adani protestors.”

An election is never about a single issue, but even if people had simply voted for the Adani mine, they were voting based on known false job estimates, and official lack of consideration about what the mine is likely to mean for water supplies in the East Coast, south of the mine. Labor never challenged those figures, or proposed different sources of jobs, and has backed the mine since the election, but this does not change the facts.

We might point out to Mr. Canavan that having their homes burn, or dying in the fires, because of lack of government preparation, or concern, could be considered a much more severe insult to the working people of Australia.

The web site continues:

“Siemens has signed the contract on December 10th, 2019”. This means Siemens signed the contract in full awareness of the problems, and before receiving Mr Canavan’s letter. It is not as if they signed years ago, before it was clear. This recent signing implies they either could not have cared about the problems, or bothered to inform themselves of the problems.

Siemens also states “There were competitors who have been competing. Thus, whether or not Siemens provides the signaling, the project will still go ahead.” This reminds me of a film about the artist Banksy I saw recently in which people stole his street art to sell it, because someone else would probably steal it if they didn’t. The argument seems to be that we can commit crimes if there is a likelihood someone else will do it, if we don’t, or they will do it before we can.

Siemens then claim they have “embedded long-term sustainability-related targets in their management-incentive schemes,” and elsewhere in their defense “we will for the first time in Siemens history establish a Sustainability Committee”. This is slightly contradictory, but may mean they currently have a commitment to carbon neutrality without any consideration of sustainability.

They also claim that “Only being a credible partner whose word counts also ensures that we can remain an effective partner for a greener future. In this case, there is a legally binding and enforceable fiduciary responsibility to carry out this train signaling contract.”

Being aware of the problems, and acting on that awareness, and not signing contracts without consideration of the problems is the only way that Siemens will become (not remain) a participant in a greener future. Being prepared to break a contract when it is discovered that it is morally wrong, despite the probable consequences, is the only way anyone can remain ethical. Everything else is about profit at the expense of a greener future.

Joe Kaeser’s final act of generosity is to promise to make plans to “support the reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure in the areas impacted by the terrible wildfires”. Yes many building companies will be making profit out of the disaster (and there is nothing wrong with that). However, this will not stop our global ecological problem. Companies must refuse to make profit out of destructive activities in the first place, and not place contractual obligations before ecological stability.

Jonathan Paul Marshall is a researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney, investigating problems with climate technologies.

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