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Teen climate activists disrupt RWE annual meeting

Students striking for the climate and RWE CEO Schmitz clash over coal exit targets

Climate activists from the ‘Fridays for future’ movement of striking school students staged a protest at the annual general meeting of RWE, urging a faster coal exit than the German utility so far has been willing to consider.

Student Luisa Neubauer, one of the leaders of movement in Germany, was able to address the meeting inside Friday after a critical shareholder transferred his right of speech to her.

"No company in Europe bears more responsibility for the climate crisis than RWE," Neubauer told RWE shareholders, according to the Deutsche Welle public broadcaster.

"How can you answer for that before me and my generation? Whoever seriously plans to convert coal into electricity after 2030 has not understood the crisis we are in."

RWE expects to become one of Europe’s top renewable energy producers once a planned asset and share-swap deal with rival E.ON passes last competition watchdog hurdles.

But the company still has 17.5GW of lignite and hard coal-fired generation capacity in Europe, and chief executive Rolf Martin Schmitz has said even a coal exit by 2038 – as recommended by Germany’s coal exit commission – is too soon.

The two faces of RWE: green champion and defender of coal

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At the shareholders meeting Schmitz again defended his standpoint, and said a too fast coal exit would do more harm than good, and may scare people. Schmitz and trade unions are worried about the potential job losses to be caused by the impending closure of coal-fired plants and lignite mining.

The coal exit commission in its recent recommendation to the German government proposed subsidies of €1.3bn ($1.46bn) per year for states affected by the coal exit to make it more socially acceptable

A broad majority of Germans as well as the wind industry approve of the ‘Fridays for future’ student movement and a coal exit. But the government parties of Chancellor Angela Merkel fear that disenchanted voters particularly in Eastern German lignite regions may turn massively to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which opposes the coal exit and denies climate change.

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