22 Apr 20

Alejandro Agag: “Covid-19 is a test run for when we need to act on climate change. That time is now.”

Alejandro Agag, the Founder and Chairman of Formula E, explains why the coronavirus outbreak and global suspension of sport is a warning for the future, unless we urgently address the climate crisis.

On Saturday, April 18, the streets of Paris should have been packed.

Thousands of fans were expected to fill grandstands in the City of Light to enjoy the Formula E race and cheer on drivers such as our French champion Jean-Eric Vergne, as they push the boundaries of electric mobility technology. 

Sadly, those streets were empty. 

The global health emergency caused by the Covid-19 outbreak has been a very unsettling situation for all of us. In countries which I am very close to - such as Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom - this pandemic is assuming dramatic proportions. Our community’s health, economy and way of life is under threat, with tragic consequences that governments, businesses, and individual citizens are facing with courage. All our support goes to them, and especially to health workers on the frontline. 

As part of public health measures, sport, as well as all forms of public entertainment, were among the first activities to be completely shut down. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to next year, an action that has not happened in peacetime since 369 AD, is the most striking decision that the global sports community had to take.  

A total government lockdown, like the ones we are observing almost everywhere in the world, is certainly a last-resort measure intended to deal with a very short-term danger such as a pandemic. However, we have a duty to look beyond this crisis and try to understand how and when such scenarios could reoccur in the medium and long term. 

As I posted on Instagram recently, Covid-19 has acted as a test run for when we need to act to combat climate change. That time is now. 

Why is the climate relevant to this crisis? There are two connected facts to look at.

First, the greatest risk of our time for human health is air pollution, which also makes us less resistant to the symptoms of respiratory infections such as those caused by Covid-19. In many parts of the world, just like Covid-19, air pollution warnings are already impacting daily life and stopping people from leaving their homes. 

Secondly, scientists warn that an uncontrolled increase in greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more and more extreme weather episodes. If we fail to act on their warning, acts of natural disaster could make public lockdowns a more frequent occurrence for us all, leading to an end to normal life as we know it, including sport.

As the resilient human response to the Covid-19 crisis has shown, it is not too late for us to make a difference. The dramatic reduction in pollution over China - and across our European cities - from the suspension of travel and temporary closure of factories, shows that it is not too late for us to collectively change our course.

Just as talented engineers and scientists are finding innovative solutions to help the fight against Covid-19, technology will also play a major role in creating a cleaner future, faster. Technological developments will be essential to make compatible the fight against climate change with sustainable and balanced economic growth.

Governments and businesses are responding to these issues by introducing specific measures and seeking technological solutions to reduce the environmental impact, thanks to an attentive public opinion that is becoming more and more actively involved in raising awareness on the issue. 

Reducing global emissions through electric mobility is an example of what technological research can do for the environment, and it is on this premise that the idea of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship was conceived in 2011. Showing how electricity is a sustainable alternative to combustion engines.

In the time since, together with our partners, we have carried out constant research producing important technological advances, such as expanded 52 kW/h batteries, introduced last season. 

That's not all. Sustainability is our focus when it comes to organising races. It is no coincidence that we have just renewed our ISO 20121 certification, the international standard for sustainability in events. We want to take our message to younger generations and institutions, with our drivers acting as our ambassadors. Our former champion Lucas di Grassi is not just a driver for the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team, but also a Clean Air Advocate for the United Nations.

It is with the same vision on environmental issues that I am proud to have also launched the Extreme E racing series, Formula E's off-road counterpart, which will see 100% electric SUVs run in remote places on the planet that are also most at risk from a climatic viewpoint. Offering sustainable mobility as one of the possible solutions, as well as using our resources to implement positive legacy initiatives dependent on local needs. 

It will start in 2021 and it will represent a new concept in off-road rallying, with races that will take place in areas already damaged by climate change such as glaciers in Greenland and rainforests in the Amazon. 

The challenges we are all experiencing right now, may well be replicated in the coming years as a result of climate change. Not just in the remote places where we are taking Extreme E, but the towns and cities where we live, work and play every day. 

While Covid-19 is fresh in our minds, we should make every possible effort to ensure that this does not happen again. Today is Earth Day, but so should every other date in the calendar. The work must start now.