Not forgetting climate change: Pedro Faria speaks to Richard Lofthouse
I’ve just met a modern hero, Pedro Faria, Technical Director at the Carbon Disclosure Project based in St Paul’s, London.
While my interview with him isn’t directly about cycling, I’ve decided to publish it here anyway, owing to its broad significance to us all, and its indirect significance to matters that have suddenly become urgent to cyclists in most of the world’s mostly polluted cities.
We’re all concerned about local emissions and poor air quality, especially Londoners like me who don’t like being washed in silent and invisible waves of poisonous, lung-irritating Nitrogen Dioxide every time we’re behind a diesel-burning jalopy. And there are lots of those in London including 23,000 mostly antiquated black cabs and a vast, poorly regulated fleet of white vans being coaxed along the smoky edge of death by poorly paid internet delivery couriers.
But it’s all too easy to forget about the big climate goals that set Europe so disastrously on its road-to-diesel. This is where Pedro and his colleagues come in, including Paul Dickinson, CDP’s Executive Chair and the man who founded CDP in 2000. What a visionary he was for doing that then, at a time that a great number of people didn’t even accept the science around climate change.
We may rue the unintended consequence of dieselization and the backroom lobbying that undoubtedly put the European Union Commission at the service of ‘national champion’ car makers – read French and German - for whom a specific competence happened to be diesel technology around the time that all this happened back in the early noughties. Yet even so diesel was more efficient than petrol then. In fact it retains the edge now, with efficiencies of 10-20% higher than petrol. Euro 6 diesels are cleaner than their predecessors, but what no car maker will discuss is what happens to them ten years down the road when they've missed three services in a row and the emissions kit is knackered or deleted by unscrupulous owners.
The fact that diesel isn’t as superior to petrol today is ironically due to the fact that car makers began to import direct injection combustion techniques across from diesel to petrol in the late 1990s, resulting, new research is suggesting, in other forms of ultra-fine particulate matter, from very high pressure petrol combustion.
This is why no one in the green lobby wants the current anti-diesel conversation to result merely in a relapse to petrol. They want hybrids as a stopgap, then electric vehicles and fuel cells to take the lead. This may also explain why Faria, somewhat to my surprise, is pretty gung ho about Tesla, whose founder Elon Musk he sees as an archetypal disrupter in a notoriously conservative sector.
Within the boundary of the Square Mile that defines London’s financial district, CDP is physically and spiritually at a remove. After all, Pedro and his colleagues want big business to measure and report and reduce their climate emissions, and to agree to science-based-targets to achieve an emissions reduction pathway that prevents the world from self-combusting.
The benchmark in this regard is the International Energy Agency, which sets out its stall with the following goal:
450 Scenario sets out an energy pathway consistent with the goal of limiting the global increase in temperature to 2°C by limiting concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million of CO2
Naturally, this is not just about transport, and within that category it’s certainly not just about private cars. It’s about the entire activity of humans on the planet. In fact Pedro was recently widely reported in the press in relation to CDP’s revelation that just 100 companies, globally, are responsible for 71 per cent of carbon dioxide gases released into the atmosphere since 1988.
He says that the biggest culprit by far is the Chinese coal industry (14% of global emissions since 1988). Next up is Saudi Aramco (4.5%). Then Russian energy major Gazprom (3.9%). A spokesman for Shell argued that replacing coal with gas was the biggest near-term thing that could be achieved to slash these emissions. That might produce a hollow laugh, except that renewables and the smart grids needed to make them work are not ready. Gas is indeed cleaner than coal, while still being a fossil fuel. Faria says that the goal of CDP is to achieve ‘transparency’ rather than a blame game.
The net result of all this is that mining and energy are the big climate emitters, not car makers, and not even the aviation industry. Transport consumes fossil fuels already retrieved and refined and transported. In respect of emissions responsibility, this places car makers in a particularly grey zone because they might accept responsibility for the emissions associated with manufacturing a car, but the emissions associated with its life time consumption of fossil fuels typically sits with the private owner. Is the car maker also responsible for the emissions of producing the oil, without which the car would be rendered useless? This is where a fantastically complex argument breaks out around Scope I, II and III emissions.
To cut a long story short, Faria notes that the French car makers have been more ready than others to sign up to CDP targets, because they can sketch an elegant pathway to electric vehicles refueled by low-carbon French nuclear energy; beyond that the middle-century goal of an economy of services and shared mobility assets (car pooling and car clubs instead of private ownership), and intelligent end-of-life recycling and re-use – car batteries put to domestic use and so forth.
Pedro oversees the development of CDP’s disclosure platform, scoring systems and data, and previously worked on the implementation of the European Emissions Trading Scheme. We end our chat with me bringing up the fact that cycling has been considered the most efficient transport of all, with some estimates putting the energy-to-distance travelled equivalent at 3,000 miles to the gallon. That’s a measure of the efficiency of the bicycle; and of the human body in converting a cheese sandwich into biomechanical energy. I know I see the world through a narrow funnel but at the end of every conversation there’s the stubborn reality that cycling is still there in front of our noses and could be promoted at low marginal cost as a real solution to so many of these mind-bending global climate problems we face. It’s a source of consolation in the face of what’s actually unfolding.