Driving change

I believe that in the future, perhaps 10 or 15 years from now, every adult in the UK will have an accurate idea of how much CO2 they emit into the atmosphere each year. Today, we decide how we spend our money. In future, we will be faced with choices about how we produce CO2. Do we use the spin dryer to dry our clothes, or take the car to the supermarket? Do we walk to work for a year to compensate for flying to Florida on a family holiday?

The reason for this is global warming. The major cause of global warming is the increasing concentration of man-made CO2 in the world’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from an estimated 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution, to 380 ppm today. If the world continues with ‘business as usual’, it is estimated that CO2 concentrations could exceed 1,000 ppm. The consequences for the environment could be catastrophic.

Doing nothing is not an option. We have to take action to stabilise greenhouse gases and, in particular, atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

As a first step, we need to look carefully and dispassionately at where and how man-made CO2 is being produced today. Figures on this vary but, as a rule of thumb, about 80 per cent comes from sources other than transport. For example, based on government calculations, it would appear that CO2 emissions from heating, hot water, appliances and lighting in an average UK household are more than twice as high as emissions from its use of personal transportation.

In a world where there are limits on how much CO2 we can produce, we will all have to make educated choices. To bring about the necessary change in behaviour will require a social policy that engages consumers and encourages them to take responsibility for their emissions. But I would not say the consumer has to change and leave it at that. We are all responsible.

We need concerted action in almost every area of human activity if we are to tackle the scale of the problem. It will have to focus on the burning of fossil fuels at power stations – still the largest source of man-made CO2 emissions – to household energy use, from energy consumption in industry, to bio-mass burning and from road, to marine and aviation transport.

Two things are clear: the car industry has to play its part and we cannot roll back climate change on our own. Since the 1970s, and increasingly over the past decade, the industry has invested many hundreds of millions of pounds to improve the environmental performance of our products.

Despite the technological advances that have been made, there is a lot more work to do. We need to innovate more rapidly – and invest more heavily. We need nothing less than a shift in our mindset in the way we do business.

Environmental motoring has to be brought into the mainstream. It cannot simply be allowed to be a lifestyle choice for a wealthy minority. It is not enough to have one or two headline models whose low CO2 emissions we can boast about. We need to achieve reductions across all the models we sell and if we can introduce technologies that reduce the emissions of cars already on our roads, so much the better.

We need to accelerate our efforts to translate efficiency gains into lower CO2 emissions and improved fuel consumption, rather than ever-increasing power for the driver. But we should not under-estimate the challenge this involves.

First and critically, car makers can only build and market the vehicles that deliver better CO2 performance; it is up to customers whether they choose to buy them or not. Second, the technological challenge is increasing. It is unlikely in the near term that we will find another stand-alone technology to rival the achievements that were made through diesels over the past 10 years. Third, as we look to the future there is as yet no clear consensus on the ideal long-term solution to the problems we face.

We are all part of the problem and must accept that we are all part of the solution. Consumers must choose to embrace greener lifestyles. But government, with the motor and fuel industries, has a major role to play in educating consumers and raising awareness of environmental issues. It is consumers’ choice of vehicle and their driving behaviour that determines how much CO2 is emitted by their personal transportation.

But we cannot force people to change their behaviour. It is my belief that they will only reduce their personal CO2 emissions when they are aware of the importance of doing so and when they are able to choose cars that emit low levels of CO2 that are accessible, affordable and attractive.

As well as appealing to people’s altruism, we must appeal to their self-interest. We believe that lower fuel bills, through lower consumption and lower prices at the pump, will remain one of the principal drivers in the uptake of new, low-carbon technologies – just as it was with the growth of diesel.


Edited extracts of a speech given by Lewis Booth, executive vice-president of Ford Europe, at the British International Motor Show