The CNBC Conversation

Former F1 champion Nico Rosberg calls for governments to 'up their game’ on climate change

Key Points
  • Nico Rosberg told CNBC that global governments need to "up their game" to tackle the "shocking" impact of climate change.
  • The former Formula One champion made his comments during the second annual Greentech Festival, which he co-founded. 
  • Rosberg shook the F1 world by retiring from the sport days after becoming world champion in 2016. 
Nico Rosberg on Greentech Festival

Former Formula One world champion Nico Rosberg told CNBC that global governments need to "up their game" to tackle the "shocking" impact of climate change.

Rosberg was speaking from Berlin at the second annual Greentech Festival, which he co-founded to showcase the "most innovative green technologies and ideas that facilitate a sustainable lifestyle."

He described as "shocking" the wildfires raging on the U.S. West Coast.

"We're experiencing more and more of these devastating fires around the world, and it's most likely of course as a result of the climate change, so that's terrible and yes, it does require governments to really up their game," he said.

Rosberg, who shook the Formula One world by retiring days after becoming world champion in 2016, said he was "not worried" about sustainability and green issues becoming less of a priority in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

"I have evidence here in my event … we're actually not only surviving, but we're thriving …. we're growing in the midst of corona," he said, adding that he would not have expected this.

"It's a real testament to how corona … it's going to raise more awareness I think for the environmental issues as well."

Last year's inaugural Greentech Festival, which includes speakers, awards, exhibitions and concerts, attracted over 40,000 guests.

This year, the event is a combination of virtual and in-person sessions taking place at the historic Kraftwerk Berlin building. It has to meet the social distancing requirements of the German government and has a "hygiene concept," including extra air circulation, distribution of masks and "a lot of hand sanitizers."

"Corona was very well managed in Germany, so for now we are not in the second wave yet, and therefore at the moment, it is all more or less manageable for us here," Rosberg told CNBC. Germany has reported close to 270,000 cases of the coronavirus to date, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, but has only had 9,384 deaths — a relatively low number as a percentage of total cases.

'Powerful' and 'emotional' stories

Proponents of the green agenda including Prince Albert II of Monaco, Sting, Jane Goodall, European Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and Google and Alphabet CEO, Sundar Pichai, are all contributing to the event in a new, online-only session called Switch Green, which aims to inspire others to take care of the planet.

Rosberg described the global leaders' personal stories and calls to action as "powerful" and "very emotional."

Pichai's participation comes days after Google announced a significant green tech pledge to power its offices and data centers through only carbon-free electricity by 2030.

"That's a big, big ask, and it was the first talk from him after that, so it was amazing to hear first-hand how they're implementing that," Rosberg said.

Nico Rosberg on the first day of the Greentech Festival at Kraftwerk Mitte in Berlin.

The German-Finnish racing star also praised von der Leyen's "ambitious" plans for a European Green Deal, which aims to reduce Europe's emissions by at least 55% by 2030, and for the EU to become net zero on carbon emissions.

"I think she's really trailblazing …. to aim for Europe to be the first carbon neutral, emission free continent by 2050 is very, very ambitious, and she's setting the groundwork now," he said.

Germany's Shark Tank

Rosberg is also currently appearing as a "shark" on Germany's version of the U.S. business reality show "Shark Tank," which sees budding entrepreneurs pitch their products and ideas to a panel of successful investors.

"It's really, really competitive. … I thrive on competition, so that's exactly what I love," he said. "I enjoy being on the show and really supporting these founders that have great ideas in the world of sustainability."

The green tech advocate has invested in Formula E and several mobility start-ups including Lilium, Tier Mobility and Lyft, and is co-owner of mobility engineering company TRE.

Asked about his move from Formula One world champion to championing green tech and mobility, Rosberg said that winning in racing was "absolutely awesome," but he always felt it had been missing purpose and meaning. He added that he had found his direction in sustainability as an entrepreneur.

"I'm loving it, I'm energized, motivated. … I hope to contribute to the lives of many, but also even in a small detail for me personally, to my kids … I have two young daughters of 3 and 5, and I wish to inspire them as well with my legacy, this is what I'm trying to do," he said.