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Why carbon is a problem for us, not others, to solve

09 February 2022

Andrew Page-Dove describes his awakening to the carbon agenda and how working with the South West Infrastructure Partnership has helped him shift the way he thinks about the challenge.

Why carbon is a problem for us, not others, to solve

Like most people, when I first began thinking seriously about carbon reduction, my starting point was personal.

I’d read that the average carbon footprint per person per year in the UK is 12.7 tonnes CO2e. My first thought was that I could offset this carbon by planting trees, right?

For every 10kg of CO2e I’d need to plant one tree... that’s 1,270 trees just to offset my own footprint!

If you take into account deforestation, the challenge increases. At the current rate, without an extensive worldwide programme of reforestation, there will be no more trees left in 300 years!

Why should that bother me? I won’t be here. Neither will the next generation of my family, or even their next generation.

Hereby hangs the issue.

My starting point

Go back five years and climate change and greenhouse gas emissions either seemed like someone else’s problem or felt overwhelming and insurmountable.

After all, we all have jobs to do, mine is building and maintaining roads. Everyone knows that cars are the main problem, so how was I to tackle my carbon footprint and continue to do my job?

Look at the data: out of 12.9 million diesel cars in the UK, 75% don’t meet emission standards. And as of now, there are only 345,000 pure electric vehicles.

Perhaps I simply had no choice but to accept this was not something I could address in my lifetime... But what if I could? What if I have an opportunity to make a difference?

Changing my perception

Over the past two years, I’ve been educated about the reality of carbon emissions, the very real challenge we face and the opportunity for change. This has been largely thanks to my involvement as a steering group member with the South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP).

Founded by ICE South West, SWIP connects cross-sector organisations and professionals to bring collaborative thinking to infrastructure strategy and development across the south west of England. SWIP’s focus for the last 18 months or so has been on developing a regional Integrating Net Zero Route Map.

Working with the University of Bristol and guided by the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget, we’ve hosted a series of workshops, some in-person and some online.

These sessions really challenged my thinking and understanding of what is important, but I also asked myself, 'am I the right person to be doing this?'

The reality is that we all have a part to play. We can all make a contribution, but it's only through the ‘power of one’ that we can achieve a transformational and behavioural shift.

Making a difference on the carbon agenda

So, what can we do to make a difference on the carbon agenda, both personally and professionally?

We need three things: strong leadership, carbon literacy and collaboration. This trio underpins the SWIP Integrating Net Zero Route Map. Indeed, they are the pre-requisites needed to support decarbonisation.

Lifecycle thinking

Another key moment for me came from a focused conversation on electrifying heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). This was a session I was facilitating.

The pace was frantic, and the focus was on the one question. I could feel myself getting drawn into the technical detail, centred on the present moment. I had to drag myself away mentally and consider the lifecycle challenge.

It’s all well and good thinking about the physics of moving HGVs by battery or hydrogen cells. It’s also right to consider the logistics of manufacturing and charging these vehicles.

But what we weren’t contemplating were tomorrow’s problems. What should happen with a battery at the end of its life? How will battery recycling or disposal work?

We need lifecycle thinking. In the same way we are focused on reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, let’s not stumble into unintended consequences.

My views now

Is the carbon agenda challenging? Yes.

Is it realistic? I don’t know.

Is it important? Definitely.

Is this a problem for others to solve? No, absolutely not.

I accept that at my age I’m probably not best placed to know what future generations will want. However, together we can help them plan for it themselves using our collective knowledge, wisdom and experience, and maybe the odd bit of hindsight every now and then.

Andrew Page-Dove is the regional director for the South West at National Highways.

  • Andrew Page-Dove, regional director (south west) at National Highways