Frankfurt motor show hit by huge climate protests

Around 15,000 took part in march

By Matthew Robinson, CNN
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images via CNN

A Greenpeace activist holds up a banner critical of the auto industry during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Volkswagen stand on the opening day of the IAA 2019 Frankfurt Auto Show on Sept. 12, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.…

(CNN) - Thousands of climate protesters descended onto the streets of Frankfurt Saturday to protest against the role of Germany's car industry in climate change and the destruction of the environment.

The march paraded past Frankfurt's annual motor show (IAA), one of the largest in the world, with protesters calling for an end to combustion engines and a transfer towards emissions-free vehicles.

Protesters were seen holding placards reading "STOP SUV," "SUV not cool" and "we can't replace our lungs."

Others were seen displaying banners calling for a "Verkehrswende" or a transport transition; a reference to Germany's planned shift towards renewable energy sources, or "Energiewende."

Police reported that around 15,000 people, including many cyclists, took part in the march, according to Reuters. Greenpeace, one of the protest organizers, said that as many as 25,000 people were involved, including around 18,000 cyclists.

Marie Klee, a spokeswoman for the climate action group Sand in the Gearbox, hailed the success of the protest, saying that the response from individuals "willing to take part in a civil disobedience campaign and put their bodies in the way of the powerful auto industry" had exceeded their expectations.

"An IAA in this form will most certainly not exist anymore. The days when VW, Daimler and BMW and co. celebrated their destructive tin cans without any interruption are over," she said.

Along with Greenpeace, many different climate groups were present at the protest, including Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion. Thousands of cyclists also took part in the "Sternfahrt" or "Star Ride," which involved them blocking key motorways on their way to the protest.

"Despite the unavoidable effects of the climate crisis, manufacturers at the IAA continue to present a majority of cars that burn petrol or diesel," Greenpeace Germany said in a statement issued before the demonstrations.

"Only about a quarter of the newly introduced vehicles in Frankfurt are pure electric cars."

The climate organization referred to a report it published earlier this week, which showed that three of Germany's largest car producers -- Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW -- had a combined global carbon footprint of 878 million tons of C02 in 2018, which exceeded the overall emissions of the whole country in the same period.

Marion Tiemann, a Greenpeace transportation expert, warned that Chancellor Angela Merkel could "no longer sit by and watch as car executives put on green crowns, while continuing to develop and sell climate-damaging diesel and petrol vehicles."

Ernst-Christoph Stolper, deputy head of Friends of the Earth Germany, said: "Enough to policies that prioritize cars in our cities. Pedestrians and cyclists need to conquer the urban spaces that belong to us."

Tina Velo, another Sand in the Gearbox spokeswoman, said: "The transportation policy of Andreas Scheuer (Germany's minister for transport and digital infrastructure) has lead to a standstill. Paying lip service to railway construction is not enough. Cars must make way for pedestrians, cyclists and trains in the street. The climate crisis can only be stopped by a radical change in traffic."

The protest came only two days after Merkel opened the IAA motor show Thursday, calling on the industry to redouble its efforts to develop sustainable modes of transportation.

"High mobility will have its price, if more efficient, climate-friendly vehicles are not manufactured," she said, while urging the car manufactures to invest more into the development of sustainable and affordable vehicles.

She warned, however, that we are still a "long way from having 100% renewable energy," and said that meeting the 2030 European climate targets was a "Herculean task."

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