BLOG: Why the race against climate change is one we have to win

“Virgin Racing has always considered itself much more than a racing team,” begins Team Principal Alex Tai to a packed crowd outside the Virgin Racing pit garage on the eve of the opening Formula E race in Hong Kong. The opening line signalling the start of the team’s new sustainability initiative, launched in conjunction with Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The idea began some time before, inspired by Fisher Steven’s film Before the Flood starring Leonard DiCaprio, and the team’s more recent successful Innovation Summit held in New York. The campaign has one clear goal; to accelerate the energy transition and help the world achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. For sure, a very ambitions target but, as Sir Richard Branson said, speaking via video conference, “No one person, government or business is going to solve this alone. We have to work together. Educating people is the first step.”

In the few years Formula E has been in the public eye, we have already seen a rapid change in perceptions and interest in the electric vehicle market, as well as climate change as a whole. Earlier this year, the UK and France agreed to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, with China announcing it will also follow suit in the near future. Would we have been talking about this 10 years ago?

Sometimes, all it takes is a change in attitudes. For example, up until as late as the mid nineties, you could still smoke cigarettes on some air planes. Now, it’s banned in some major cities. Crazy to think of now but back then it was the norm. Clearly, educating people can provide the trigger to a switch in public perception, and in turn prove to be a very powerful tool.

“The whole world needs to get on top of the issue before it is too late”

As Sir Richard continues, “The whole world needs to get on top of the issue before it is too late – for this generation and for those to come. Formula E and the Virgin Racing team are already helping spread the message.  But we need to do more.  And that’s where the Race Against Climate Change comes in. Let’s highlight the need for decisive action wherever we can. Let’s inspire racing fans, the communities we race in, governments and businesses to take action now. The moment is ours to seize, the price we’ll pay for inaction is just too great.”

With the launch taking place in Hong Kong, it seemed fitting that the focus of the event’s main debate should centre on China. Many perceive China to be one of the biggest causes of CO2 emissions globally, but surprisingly, it’s also one of the solutions as Lena Hansen, Managing Director of the Rocky Mountain Institute explained live on stage.

“The way China is approaching renewable energy is to hit it in terms of scale. Bloomberg recently forecast that China will install 54 gigawatts of solar energy this year – that’s more than any other country in the world.  So what we’re seeing is an incredibly rapid deployment of solar energy and it’s a similar story with wind. China is installing one wind turbine per hour. That’s only about 5% of energy usage at present but that is going to rapidly change.

“China is installing one wind turbine per hour”

“This is an important part of the story when we consider electric vehicles because as mobility begins to shift to electric we also have to make the fuel renewable to those vehicles. So those two go hand in hand. In many ways China is leading the way in this both in renewable development and innovation. They have five of the top six solar companies in the world, seven of the top 15 wind companies, so they’re going to be shaping both the quality of the technology but also the costs of renewables globally.

“China is also at the forefront of electric vehicle development adoption. It has around 750,000 EVs on the road; that’s twice as many as it had last year, and by far the most of anywhere in the world.”

Views backed up by Gavin Edwards, Director of Conservation of the World Wildlife Fund and the event’s second key speaker. “EVs are absolutely a key part of the solution, as when we can generate electricity from renewable energy, we can run carbon free transport.  The WWF looked at how quickly electric vehicles will take off and essentially, it’s within the next decade, we’re going to see a winner takes all market, where EVs will displace the internal combustion energy, which will displace 4 million barrels of oil per day in China alone, out of the 95 million barrels of oil that the world consumes daily. If we think about it, the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone; our current age will not end because we ran out of oil.”

“…the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone…”

But with this in mind, it’s not just a switch to EVs that’s required, it’s also about the power used to make them. “Yes that’s true continues Gavin but even today, if you run an EV compared to a petrol car, even using ‘dirty’ energy made from coal, you’ll still be 30% better off due to the efficiency of an EV. The good news is China, and others, are de-carbonising its power supply year by year, producing more power with lower CO2 emissions. So when that trend converges, it will be a win win for tackling climate change.”

“It will be a win win for tackling climate change”

Formula E and the Virgin Racing team is also playing its part in this in two key ways, as Gavin explains. “The first is innovation. The quicker we can develop better, high-end battery technology via these race cars, the more it can be commercialised down into the consumer end and the cheaper EVs will become.

“Secondly, is status. The reason people buy cars is to feel good about what they buy. So, the more we can drive the idea that an electric vehicle is a cool thing to have, we’re going to have a faster take up. And let’s not forget, it is a race. We have so little time left to turn this around in terms of tackling climate change. We only have a few years left to scale up these solutions and I think Formula E and the Virgin Racing team can help do that.”

Show your support and click here to learn more about the team’s new RACC initiative, as well as sign it’s online pledge.