We're having this interview in late May. So it’s still too early for final assessments of the impact of Corona. What’s pretty clear though, is that global emissions of greenhouse gases are going to be much lower this year than in many previous years. Are you happy about this?
I have mixed feelings. The greenhouse gas emissions reductions we see are just temporary, and they happen for all the wrong reasons. The current reductions are a direct result of the fact that the economy has had this dramatic slowdown. This is no surprise because we've seen over the past 50 years how emissions of greenhouse gases follow economic activity. Yet the challenge is not reducing economic activity but decoupling it from emissions. If people start perceiving that the only way to protect the planet is by sacrificing the economy, that would be a complete failure. The solution for us to succeed in a sustainable future for all societies and sectors is when sustainability becomes the pathway to economic success. If Daimler wants to be a global player that lives up to its responsibilities, it must bring forward competitive solutions that are good both for jobs and for the environment. This is not about marketing, it’s about real change way beyond Corona times.
How will Corona affect the way we deal with climate change?
I think that what we are seeing around the world today – businesses and societies going digital when stranded on the ground and in their homes – may provide learning that can become permanent after the crisis. The post-Corona world is thus unlikely to be the same as the pre-Corona world. And what makes this more than just speculation, is that the pandemic only speeds up already existing trends. Many years before the Corona crisis we have been on a trajectory towards digitalization and we are at this exponential digital revolution with AI, 5G, big data management and basically becoming much more hyper-connected in the digital space. The Corona crisis abruptly forced us to accelerate that digital lifestyle. And there will be elements of this that stick after the crisis. I also think there will be permanent changes in our behavior, for example when it comes to the percentage of time that we spend in transporting ourselves between different locations.
At the same time, this is the biggest shock to the global economy since the 1930s. It is a health drama, it is a tragedy. And we need to do all we can to prevent similar crashes in the future. We cannot entirely prevent future pandemics, but we have enough evidence to say that halting the destruction of wildlife and natural ecosystems, and rapidly decarbonising the world to hold global warming well-below 2C, are two key strategies.
Why is that?
It’s because the majority of these virus infections are zoonoses, i.e., virus spill-overs from wildlife to humans, reinforced by our unsustainable and risky interactions with nature. Risks of future pandemics are likely to rise if we continue to destabilise the climate and nature. We therefore have to try and turn it into a unique momentum for us to rise after this crisis. To take deliberate decisions to accelerate and to amplify the investments and the pathway towards a decarbonized economy. Therefore, I would advise that future-oriented programs, like the European Green Deal or any stimulus packages, should be associated with criteria that enable us not only to save jobs and the economy but also to accelerate the pathway towards more resilient societies running on a zero-carbon economy. Now, what role will Daimler decide to play here? The global transformation towards sustainability is necessary.