‘They are accountable’: Teens take climate fight to German car giant VW

Shareholders in German car behemoth Volkswagen were barraged with criticism by teen environmental activists at the group's annual general meeting in Berlin, becoming the latest industrial giant targeted in a widening battle between generations.

'They are accountable': Teens take climate fight to German car giant VW
Herbert Diess speaking to press at the AGM on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

“I've come to talk to you about your responsibility for the fact that we are losing our future and our planet,” high school pupil Clara Mayer told the be-suited board members and hundreds of attendees from the rostrum on Tuesday.

“I want you to look your children in the eye and tell them 'I sold your future',”  she added, to boos from some parts of the hall and cheers from others.

Mayer, who is a member of the “Friday for Future” climate demonstrations by school students, had been handed time to speak by investors looking to provoke a faster change of course at the sprawling 12-brand group.

Her speech followed a string of similar actions at the AGMs of firms including chemicals and pharmaceuticals maker Bayer and power company RWE.

SEE ALSO: Germany's climate protesting youth take fight to RWE

Out on the street, around 100 environmentalists staged a “die-in” and chanted “come and see the scene of the crime” as shareholders approached the central Berlin venue.

Inside, Mayer's troop of climate interlopers had to wait almost five hours for their turn at the podium — shadowed at every step by security guards.

Students in Mainz taking part in a 'Fridays for Future' climate protection rally in February. Photo: DPA

'Capitalism, immorality, greed'

Like other bosses, VW chief executive Herbert Diess likely hoped that by conceding to some complaints and highlighting existing climate plans he could defuse demands for urgent action.

He acknowledged that with makes ranging from high-end Audi, Porsche and Bentley to mass-market VW, Skoda or Seat, “vehicles belonging to our car brands alone cause one percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide”.

But Diess recalled that the group is investing more than €30 billion over the coming five years in dozens of new electric models.

Mayer said she was unconvinced by the powerful CEO's message that “climate change has become the main challenge of our time”.

“Volkswagen for me represents capitalism, immorality, greed,” the 18-year-old told AFP. “I want to tell them they are accountable.”

SEE ALSO: 'Grandma, what's a polar bear?' – Students speak out at Berlin demo

Climate Action Network activist Tadzio Mueller was still more implacable.

“We don't want cleaner cars. We want this dirty, criminal industry to get out of our society and above all out of our politics,” he told AFP.

That may be easier said that done in Germany, where the car industry employs 800,000 people, accounts for a massive share of exports and donates to parties across the political spectrum.

In VW's case, the connection is even closer, as Lower Saxony state owns 11.8 percent of the group — making good performance for the firm good politics in regional capital Hannover.

By Daphne Roussea

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English-speaking churches in France launch climate campaign

English-speaking churches in France and across Europe have launched a massive environmental campaign ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next month.  

A chimney belches out smoke as a haze of pollution hangs over the city of Lyon in southeast France
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

The European Interfaith Climate Campaign is intended to promote ‘rapid, transformative change to avert climate catastrophe’. 

The American Church in Paris, Quakers of France, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Paris, the American International Church in London, and 0.6 Planet have teamed up to ‘work together to shed light on the systemic and structural issues blocking a sustainable future and climate justice for all people’, the group said in a statement.

Events taking place at the American Church in Paris include:

  • Climate Sunday-themed services on October 31st at 11am and 2pm
  • Children attending the church are creating “prayer boats” to go to COP26.
  • The founder of 0.6 Planet, Monica Bassett, will headline at a Zoom event on November 2nd between 7.30pm and 9pm to discuss her new life in a French ecovillage in the Dordogne, where she has drastically cut her consumption and carbon footprint.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Paris has a full programme as well:

  • Six Eco-Weeks Challenges and online conversations on Thursday evenings: from October 4th to November 12th.
  • Climate Sunday Service: in-person & live-streamed on October 17th, at 10:30am: “A Call for Change” (intergenerational focus)
  • Virtual Watch Party on Sunday, October 24th, at 11 am: “The Wisdom to Survive” documentary, followed by a on discussion: