A just and sustainable mobility transition

A just and sustainable mobility transition

The FIA has evolved its sustainability strategy to better address the “triple planetary crisis” – and the impact on human beings

As Lewis Hamilton flew past the chequered flag to win the 2024 British Grand Prix on Sunday, fists furiously pumping the air in jubilation, it felt like a throwback to a different time. 

It has been so long since Hamilton – an F1 icon – has been a contender, let alone a winner, that, for a brief moment in time, everyone connected with the sport was swept away in a haze of nostalgia and admiration.

But nostalgia only lasts so long in motorsport; in the relentless pursuit of performance excellence, every driver and constructor is only as good as their last race.

As the governing body for F1 and a host of other high-profile championships, like Formula E and Rallycross, the Fédération Internationale d’Automobile (FIA) has to also relentlessly look forward – not just in the areas of technology, performance and engagement, but increasingly around sustainability.

While the international federation has had an environmental strategy in place since 2020, there has been a collective acknowledgement within the organisation that sustainability must take a greater precedence. 

In the last year, a dedicated department has been set up, a director has been appointed in the form of Sara Mariani and environmental and social performance are increasingly being linked to financial instruments. Members who want to apply for FIA grants, for example, have to achieve its first level of environmental accreditation (an initial impact measurement and policy development), while colleagues will have to keep tabs on their decisions and behaviours with an internal price on carbon being explored.

Key player in mobility

This is crucial for the FIA. Despite efforts to shift perceptions of motorsport’s sustainability, the FIA’s carbon emissions have been rising. Barbara Silva, the FIA’s head of sustainability, explains this increase is due to more championships and personnel, a common issue for many sports organisations. Importantly, emissions intensity is decreasing, and Silva and Mariani recognise the need for the FIA to be seen not only as a climate leader in sports but also as a key player in the broader mobility sector.

The FIA is addressing this from multiple angles. It has adopted the new net zero definition from London Climate Week 2024, requiring a 90% emissions reduction. With the new guidance, the organisation has moved its net zero date from 2030 to 2040, while reaffirming its commitment to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2030.

At COP28 in Dubai last year, the FIA attended as an observer organisation, aiming to connect national governments with its network of manufacturers, championships and 1.8 billion fans to collaborate on “concrete actions.”

Just transition

Silva explains that this initiative involves working with governments to collect and analyse mobility data. Previously outside the sustainability team’s scope, mobility has been under their purview since April. Mariani and Silva are now focused on ensuring the FIA contributes to a “just transition” in mobility, providing accessible solutions for all.

“We know that road transport needs to decarbonise, but not every country can be electrified tomorrow,” Silva tells The Sustainability Report. “We need medium-term solutions and sustainable fuels could be that solution in some parts of the world.

“We’re still defining the exact boundaries of our responsibility when it comes to the wider road transport sector, but we’ll be going beyond power engines and propulsion systems.”

The concept of a just transition reflects the FIA’s more holistic approach to sustainability, integrating environmental and human health and well-being. Since taking her position, Mariani has been “story mining” to identify how the FIA’s work supports both human and ecological goals, discovering numerous examples in discussions with engineers and departments.

“With our updated roadmap we have tried to connect the dots and leverage the competency inside the organisation because we have very, very knowledgeable people,” Mariani says. “We’re trying to help them understand that if they expand their scope slightly, we can gather data that can serve multiple purposes.”

She adds: “Our main stakeholders are our colleagues and departments. We’re trying to bring them on board and make them aware that their daily actions have an impact on the organisation.”

Establish new standards

While there is an abundance of technical knowledge and innovative approaches within the organisation, the sustainability department has branched out in an attempt to tackle some of motorsport’s most difficult challenges.

According to Silva, only half of a car’s emissions come from its exhaust, with the rest attributed to tyres, brakes and road wear. Over three years, the FIA, in partnership with Imperial College London, will explore and trial new technologies to establish new standards and regulations for its championships and members.

Motorsport’s reliance on a healthy natural environment and its impact on biodiversity are being examined in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which oversees the Sports for Nature Framework. A working group of promoters, event organisers, members, and teams will discuss the findings before sharing them widely by the end of October. The FIA will then sign the Sports for Nature Framework and establish a biodiversity action plan by year-end.

As part of this action plan, the FIA will develop biodiversity tools to support organisations within its ecosystem, aiming for a 40% biodiversity net gain across motorsport. One option includes partnering with the European Space Agency, which has created a similar tool for the World Rallycross Championship (WRC) Promotor.

“We have updated our roadmap to consider the triple planetary crisis (climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss),” says Silva. “There’s an understanding that the next few years are going to be really crucial for our sport – for our survival – and we really need to show leadership.”

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