“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” Although this statement by former US President Barack Obama was made back in 2014, it is more relevant than ever today. It is therefore all the more important that we now move to take action in the form of clear regulations, innovative technologies, and billions in investment.
Within the framework of its Green Deal policy, Europe has set itself the goal of becoming the first CO2-neutral continent by 2050 at the latest. China plans to achieve the same goal ten years after that. In one of his first acts as President of the United States, Joe Biden signed an executive order returning his country to the Paris Agreement. These are all powerful and important signals. Nevertheless, it is also clear that the formulation of political objectives and the application of sanctions alone will not be enough; we also need to “win people over” to active climate protection. This is one of the reasons why Daimler supports multilateral initiatives that are designed to promote a widespread transformation in the economy and society (Climate Pledge, TONZ). And we are first focusing on our own backyard. For example, we have set ourselves the clear goal of making our worldwide fleet of new cars and vans CO2-neutral by 2039. We also plan to do the same with our heavy-duty commercial vehicles in Europe, North America, and Japan.
We seek to ensure sustainable and self-determined mobility through technological innovations. We are determined to move ahead with the necessary transformation of our business and our company. What we plan to do represents perhaps the most fundamental “Spurwechsel” — lane change — ever made since we invented the automobile. It relates to our entire value chain as well — from development and procurement to production, sales, and recycling. We now have new green financing instruments that offer investors who focus on sustainability the opportunity to make targeted investments in climate protection technology.
At the same time, we won’t accomplish it alone — decarbonization requires and will continue to require a joint effort. Governments, companies, and society as a whole all need to pull together here. If this can be done, we are very optimistic that we will be able to have a positive influence on global temperature development.
Our holistic approach to climate protection enables us to make an effective contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals:
Even if you believe in leaving everything up to the market, limiting global warming will cost much less than dealing with its consequences. If you decide to take on an active role, you will be at the controls. Companies like Daimler should take a clear stand: ‘We can become CO2-neutral.’ Sending such a signal will also help governments in their mission to speed up the Race to Zero for everyone.
Nigel Topping Nigel Topping is the High Level Champion for Climate Action for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held in 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Three questionsJohan Rockström
Mr. Rockström, what effect is climate change due to greenhouse gases having on business activities at Daimler and other companies?
Extreme weather and wildfires are increasing around the world, as are the risks we face in terms of harvest yields and ecosystems. It has now been scientifically demonstrated that extreme events that impact our global economy are exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions. A destabilized climate puts an additional burden on systems that are already under serious pressure — for example our healthcare system and the international food production and distribution system, not to mention regions with unresolved conflicts. Obviously, this has a direct and indirect impact on Daimler’s supply chains — and on the company’s customers and employees as well. If you look at it another way, you can see that the climate crisis also calls into question Daimler’s business model, which until now has been based on the use of combustion engines and fossil fuels. Here as well, the scientific evidence is clear: The world needs to become independent of fossil fuels over the next 30 years if global warming is to be kept significantly below 2 degree Celsius, as is stipulated in the Paris Agreement. The good news is that Daimler is an innovative company that can change its technology — but this will need to be done quickly.
You have said that society’s view of sustainability has changed dramatically over the last few years. What is the basis for this assessment?
It’s based on what we can all perceive in society at the moment, and also on the experience we as scientists have had in terms of our interaction with business representatives and political decision-makers. For companies in particular, regardless of sector, the concept of sustainability has been transformed from a moral obligation of corporate responsibility into a question of competitiveness and innovation. The latest estimates made by the World Economic Forum (WEF) indicate that the focus on a green-based economic recovery after the covid-19 pandemic will create additional jobs and enable more favorable economic development.
Another example of how society now views sustainability differently is the joint declaration issued by a group of scientists and Europe’s seven leading commercial vehicle manufacturers — including Daimler, of course. This declaration states that all new trucks sold will need to be fossil fuel-free by 2040. This is a courageous decision that brings the companies and the scientific community together, and it also demonstrates what can be achieved when people take on responsibility. In addition, companies view this as a way to improve their technological competitiveness. In any case, along with safety and social justice, a successful environmental agenda also needs to include aspects such as innovation and prosperity.
Are you saying that you don’t believe decarbonizing the planet necessarily requires sacrifice?
Societies want to develop in a manner that ensures a more just, prosperous, and healthy future. This is particularly important for developing countries, and green technologies are a must in any case if efforts in this regard are to be successful. At the same time, part of this growth must be qualitative rather than quantitative. It’s clear that we cannot continue to waste valuable resources.
I believe Daimler has understood this. Daimler can reduce the strain on our planet by employing recycling processes. It can also prevent CO2 emissions along its entire value chain and further develop its products. People don’t necessarily want to drive a vehicle with an eight-cylinder engine — they want mobility and freedom, and there are many different ways to achieve that. All of this presents a challenge for the entire car and truck sector. The previous business model of simply seeking to continuously increase vehicle sales is not sustainable. Ultimately, it is quality and new forms of mobility that will enable us to achieve the goal of being able to live a good life — and the only way to get there is to transform to sustainability.
Johan Rockström is the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Professor of Earth System Science at the University of Potsdam. Rockström, who is from Sweden, is one of the world’s most frequently cited researchers. He has been a member of Daimler’s Advisory Board for Integrity and Corporate Responsibility since May 2020.
The average CO2 emissions of the new passenger cars fleet in Europe (EU, United Kingdom, Norway and Iceland) decreased to anticipated 104 g/km. This means we achieved the CO2 targets of the European Union for 2020.
The future of CO2-neutral transport:
The Mercedes-Benz GenH2 Truck
A locally CO2-neutral long-haul truck that measures up in every way to its diesel counterparts and also delivers superior tractive power, range, and performance?
Daimler Trucks presented the concept for such a vehicle in 2020: The Mercedes-Benz GenH2 Truck is due to be launched on the market as a series-production vehicle in the second half of the decade. The truck is going to make a big impression with a range of up to 1,000 kilometers and more and a payload of 25 tons. Our engineers took the demanding and varied requirements of commercial vehicle customers into account when they developed this truck, whose special feature is the use of hydrogen. More specifically, the vehicle’s fuel cell uses hydrogen as one of the elements in an electrochemical reaction that generates electricity and powers the truck, which is therefore equipped with two liquid-hydrogen tanks. A battery comes into effect whenever additional energy is needed in driving operation.
The GenH2 received the 2021 Truck Innovation Award in recognition of its clear technological concept.
The life of a power pack
1 - Resources
Cobalt, lithium & Co.
The central aspects of the discussion about lithium-ion batteries - and what lies behind them.
2 - Production
How cell and battery production at Daimler dovetail.
3 - Installation
Networked systems and intelligent robots
A flexible approach to an emission-free future.
4 - Use, Charging and Remanufacturing
Getting ready for long distance
How practical is the current generation of electric vehicles?
5 - Storage and Energy Management
The tanks of the future
How can green electricity be constantly and reliably integrated into the grid?
6 - Recycling
Reuse, Recycle, Repeat: Target station raw-material cycle
What happens to the valuable materialsmetals contained in spent lithium ion batteries?
The life of a power pack
We constantly carry them around with us in our smartphones — and over the next ten years lithium-ion batteries will increasingly be used in vehicles as well. This is because electric mobility is now gathering pace.
The idea is obvious: Reduce CO2 emissions produced by cars and trucks, and improve air quality in cities. But is that all? More than anything else, the extent to which an electric vehicle actually improves sustainability is determined by its centerpiece — the battery. It’s therefore all the more important to ensure right from the start that batteries remain efficient and conserve resources throughout their life cycle — from battery research to battery recycling. Every step taken, no matter how small, has an impact on a battery’s life cycle assessment.
The best grades will be awarded for successfully transforming the chain of reusable materials into a closed cycle. Batteries offer great potential because of the diverse and sometimes rare raw materials that are used in everything from battery cells to battery housings. The ultimate goal is to decouple our resource consumption from our growth in production output.
How mountains of waste will permanently change vehicle production
For six years, the team at the startup company UBQ Materials worked on a new raw material, with the aim of producing a homogeneous renewable material from food and garden waste, diapers, paper, and packaging.
Their work resulted in the creation of the bio-based plastic UBQ, which could replace conventional plastics in a wide range of areas in the future — at Daimler as well. This is because this climate-friendly composite can be recycled more often than other plastics without any loss of quality. This gives UBQ a decisive advantage: It can reduce the CO2 footprint of components, and as a renewable source of raw materials it paves the way for the establishment of a circular economy.
Daimler began working with the Israeli startup at the beginning of 2020 with the hope of possibly using the bioplastic material soon in series production operations for a lightweight load compartment cavity. After further tests are completed, this CO2-neutral recyclate could also be used for prototype construction and for the production of bus bumpers, cable ducts, and charge carrier boxes.