A prominent new figure from Germany is emerging in the European climate movement, and she is spelling trouble for many major German companies.
Luisa Neubauer, a 23-old geography student and the head of the Germany’s “Fridays for Future” movement, is known for directing her focus at companies that purportedly promote environmental policy, but in her eyes, continue to harm the climate.
In the German media, Luisa Neubauer is often mentioned as often as Greta Thunberg is, and as the leader of Germany’s environmental youth movement, is reportedly attending up to 30 meetings a week.
She also appears in television discussions with journalists and politicians, organizes demonstrations, and writes articles.
For her activities, she has come under harsh criticism. For example, social media users pointed out that while calling for a reduction in environmentally unfriendly air transport, she repeatedly flew to Africa to work on humanitarian projects. Currently, she says she tries to travel only by train.
Neubauer says that the fact that so many politicians and entrepreneurs focus more on her, personally, than on the climate, shows that “they are afraid.”
This claim may not be an exaggeration, and the management of Siemens, one of Germany’s biggest tech companies known for its global reach, is an example of that.
Siemens says it promotes the fight against climate change, with the company’s management announcing an ambitious climate program, which aims to reach climate-neutral production by 2030. This means that it would produce only as many emissions as it absorbs.
Furthermore, as a developer of many modern technologies, Siemens has announced that it will also help its business partners around the world to maximize energy efficiency and achieve environmentally-friendly operations.
But Neubauer says she isn’t buying what Siemens is selling. She says Siemens is quietly helping the world’s largest “climate sinners”.
The German company is getting ready to supply the Indian company, Adani Group, with signaling devices for an Australian railway which will transport coal from the Carmichael coal mine to a distant port hundreds of kilometers away. This coal will then be transported to Indian coal power plants and features a contract worth roughly €18 million.
Of course, German climate activists, including the influential Neubauer, disapprove of the contract. According to them, Siemens “preaches water and drinks wine”.
“Joe Kaeser [CEO of Siemens] made an inexcusable mistake,” said Neubauer.
Climate activists organized demonstrations in front of several Siemens branches and the headquarters in Germany. They want to continue with the demonstration until the company cancels the contract. However, Kaeser considers this impossible because the contract cannot be terminated without causing extensive economic damage to the company in the form of penalties.
He decided to solve the clash with Neubauer in a novel way by offering the climate activist a position on the supervisory board of Siemens Energy.
“I want young people to be actively involved in decision-making. The conflict between young and old needs to be resolved,” Kaeser said.
According to him, a well-known activist could contribute to the fight against climate change by advising the company’s supervisory board on complex business issues.
Neubauer, however, refused the offer.
The problems that Siemens is facing may also signal similar difficulties for other large German manufacturers and technology giants exporting technology abroad.
Activists are becoming very interested not only in how the company behaves in Germany but also in whether its corporate policies contribute to environmental damage abroad.
According to Adani Group, the Carmichael mine in Australia is to become one of the largest mines of its kind in the world. Over 60 million tonnes of coal are to be produced every year, roughly a third of the amount of coal produced in Germany today.
Technology companies are now no exception as targets for climate activists. Nearly every major company is racing to showcase and promote its so-called “ecological sustainability”, which can influence both its business success in certain countries and the recruitment of an educated workforce.