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“We are running out of time to combat climate change”

Interview with Margo Tsirigotis Oge

The Greek island of Astypalea is to become a model for climate-friendly mobility and energy supply. This was agreed by the Greek government and the Volkswagen Group. In an interview, Margo Tsirigotis Oge, former director at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), explains the tasks that politics and business must take on when it comes to climate protection. Oge has been a member of Volkswagen’s independent Sustainability Council since 2016. She was born in Athens.

“Close cooperation between governments and the private sector is extremely important for climate protection.“

Margo Tsirigotis Oge former director at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

What role does cooperation between states and companies play in the fight against global warming?

Close cooperation between governments and the private sector is extremely important for climate protection. It is a win-win situation. The Astypalea project offers an opportunity to demonstrate an integrated approach to inspire such, and to do so in a historic setting. Greece is considered the birthplace of many essential elements of western civilization - from democracy to philosophy to science. With this project Greece once again can contribute to society and demonstrate how we can live sustainably and combat climate change. And, in turn Volkswagen can showcase that clean energy powered electric cars are the future.

What do you expect?

The Astypalea project will serve as a laboratory. In the course of the cooperation, challenges will arise that neither Volkswagen nor the Greek government can foresee today. There will be progress, but also difficulties. The partners should communicate this openly and report regularly on the status of implementation.

The project begins at a time when Europe is discussing more stringent climate targets. What role can car manufacturers like Volkswagen play?

I am hearing that the European Commission may propose tightening its auto emissions limits and also hearing that the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) may reject the proposal. Given Volkswagen’s significant commitments and investments for electrification, it would be advisable for Volkswagen to negotiate separately from the VDA for what will be required - e.g. incentives, taxation, policies, etc. - to meet more stringent CO₂ standards by 2030. My many years of experience as a regulator has taught me that an industry association represents typically the lowest common denominator and very often is not effective working with regulators. In contrast, individual companies have a better success working one-on-one with regulators to shape policies.

Which tasks must politics solve?

Governments should support e-mobility with better charging infrastructure, tax benefits, and other incentives to make e-mobility attractive to consumers. At the same time, they must expand renewable sources of energy. Only if the electricity is clean, can the climate benefits of e-mobility be fully realized.

The transformation is a challenge for companies and also brings about a change in job vacancies. Don’t governments need to take more account of this?

We are running out of time when it comes to climate protection. Every region of the world is already affected by global warming. Here in California alone, more than 1.6 million hectares of forest were destroyed by fires this summer. Mediterranean countries like Greece are threatened by drought and rising sea levels. If we still want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we must become CO₂-neutral by 2050. And, we must not be deterred with the challenges of such a transformation. Governments must ensure that high quality, new jobs are created to support this new age of electromobility – in partnership with industry.

You speak passionately – what motivates you?

I may not live long enough to see the most devastating impacts of climate change but my two young grandchildren will. The climate crisis, caused by my generation, will be felt on my grandchildren and future generations. Climate change is an intergenerational justice issue and we have a moral responsibility to act with urgency. Science is clear that we are running out of time and our inaction will have catastrophic impacts in all lives of our planet.
We must therefore act before it is too late so we can leave behind a climate-neutral society for future generations.

Margo T. Oge is a former director of the Office of Transportation Air Quality at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA (1994-2012). She led the implementation of the EPA’s first national greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger cars and heavy-duty vehicles to double fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2025. She chairs the board of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and is a member of the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). She has been a member of Volkswagen’s independent Sustainability Council since 2016. Margo Tsirigotis Oge was born in Athens. She lives in California.

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