Do you feel that sustainability is given particular attention at present?
Yes and for good reason: 40 percent of our insect species are on the verge of extinction. We stand back and watch our glaciers melt and the sea levels rise – to mention just the consequences of climate change and eco-systems decline that are already visible. At the same time, some opinion leaders and parts of society continue to succeed in turning a blind eye to this fact – just as they do to other socio-political problems.
Which socio-political challenges do you see?
Many members of the public and in particular youth feel that policymakers do not hear or do not want to hear their worries. That is a problem – not only because it opens doors for radical parties. The cost of living is rising continuously and for many it is too high already. The disparity between poverty and the land of plenty continues to grow: While some own two or three private vehicles - or homes, others can hardly afford the train fare or their monthly rent. Clean energy has its price but most importantly we need to find ways to convince consumers that clean energy is not necessarily more expensive than dirty energy with a full cost benefit analysis. That is not an easy task. While the arguments for clean energy are obvious, we still need to find an affordable way together now and this comes back to ensuring a “just transition”. That is equally true for buying electric cars as it is for heating living spaces.
What must the policymakers do to make climate protection affordable for everyone?
Politicians are taking fewer and fewer risks, because they don't want to disappoint their voters and lose them to populist parties. At the same time, our processes and systems are sometimes designed in a way that results in many things taking too long whilst our political systems are based on short term cycles. That’s why our politicians must succeed in getting good ideas through the democratic process faster. We have to prevail. Including over those who are trying to delay the transformation. Unfortunately, when I think about the past, the auto industry also comes to mind in this context: In retrospect, I would have expected that companies in the technological lead would have developed climate-friendly alternatives even more quickly.
And the policymakers – have the players prioritized climate protection early enough?
Europe has now passed the right legislation to move towards the Paris Agreement as well as enhance environmental protection and the quality of land-water-air across Europe including our cities. Looking back over the past years, the processes that took us there certainly have taken too long overall. From my point of view, we all need to practice self-criticism, understand where we have failed and where we have succeeded and I am not making an exception for policymakers.
The climate goals of the EU are quite ambitious. Are you not jeopardizing the stability of the economy as a result?
True, the goals are ambitious. But they are just ambitious enough for us to keep our planet a little while longer. To ensure the economic stability does not suffer, the automotive industry should from now on only invest in vehicles whose primary objective is emission-free mobility.