Tuesday 11 December 2018

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INDOpinion

Transport sector is critical to achieving low carbon aims

Wednesday, 6th December, 2017 6:01pm

Opening statement by Transport Minister Shane Ross to Seanad Éireann on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 recently.

It is clear that Ireland faces a considerable challenge to transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society by 2050. The transport sector has a critical role to play in achieving this national objective. We must develop approaches that reduce emissions and enable the sector to adapt to the impacts of climate change without impeding social progress or economic recovery. All the while, Ireland’s transport sector must able to cater for our growing national travel demand in a dynamic and responsive manner.

Transport emissions

Our transport sector is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland, increasing by over 130 per cent between 1990 and 2015. Ireland is not unique in this. Transport in Europe now accounts for nearly 27 per cent of all non-Emissions Trading System (ETS) emissions. It has been estimated that without intervention, transport emissions will rise by 11 per cent between 2020 and 2035.

Consequently we must change how we travel, how we do business and the types of fuels and technologies we employ if we are to successfully contribute towards our decarbonisation target.

Transport mitigation measures

Our National Mitigation Plan has firmly established and streamlined the Government commitment to work towards our national decarbonisation objective. Transport will play a significant role in the national mitigation effort and has already made positive progress. 24 transport mitigation measures are identified in the Plan.

They are wide-ranging and include:

• Sustained investment in public and sustainable transport to improve the quality and capacity of the transport network, as well as encouraging a shift away from private car use

• Securing an early transition to zero and low emission vehicles through the incentivisation of alternative fuels and technologies

• A series of complementary policy and taxation measures requiring a cross governmental and inter-departmental approach

In 2016 there were four key measures that reduced transport emissions in Ireland.

Firstly, our sustained investment in the public and sustainable transport network led to an increase of almost 31 million journeys on subsidised public transport and commercial bus services since 2013.

Secondly, as a result of the implementation of EU vehicle standard regulations limiting tail pipe emissions, new cars entering the fleet are now approximately 25 per cent more energy efficient than they were in 2007.

Furthermore, the redesign of the VRT and motor tax regimes in 2008 to be based on CO2 emissions rather than engine size had a very positive effect in changing buyer behaviour and encouraging the take up of low-emission vehicles. Older and more polluting models now represent just four per cent of all vehicle purchases.

Finally, the introduction of a Biofuel Obligation Scheme to incorporate sustainable fuel into our conventional fuel mix has substantially decreased transport emissions. In 2015 alone, this biofuel measure reduced CO2 emissions by 356 kilotonnes.

Sustainable transport investment

Encouraging public transport use is central to our national efforts to combat climate change, air pollution and other negative environmental and social impacts.

However, we are still highly dependent on the private car. 74 per cent of our journeys are taken by car, equating to over half of our transport emissions. We need to provide a realistic and sustainable alternative.

I remain strongly committed to meeting increasing travel demand through more public transport capacity and supporting cycling and walking. In Dublin alone, over two-thirds of all journeys in to the city centre are now made on foot, by bicycle, or by public transport representing an increase of over 10 per cent in the last six years.

In Budget 2018 I secured over €100m in multi-annual cycling and walking programmes as well as an 275 per cent increase in capital investment in public transport infrastructure over the next four years, amounting to a spend of over 2.7 billion euro.

It is also vital that we meet our growing transport demand with green public transport alternatives. Our National Mitigation Plan commits us to utilising the newly established Green Public Transport Fund to support low emission vehicles in the bus and taxi sector. I have secured additional funding in Budget 2018 to assist this objective, starting with support for taxis to make the switch to electric vehicles from early 2018.

The NTA anticipate purchasing low emitting buses next year as part of the Bus Connects program.

Alternative fuels and electric vehicles

The use of alternative fuels and technologies is key to reducing emissions within the transport sector, and offers one of the most cost effective and feasible pathways to meeting our carbon mitigation and pollution objectives. This is particularly important outside urban areas where dependence on private cars is strongest.

To ready Ireland for transitioning away from conventional fuels and to enable seamless adaption to this developing and expanding market, I published, earlier this year, Ireland’s National Policy Framework on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure for Transport - a cornerstone of which is our ambition that by 2030 all new cars and vans sold in Ireland will be zero-emissions capable.

LEV taskforce

Furthermore, to accelerate our transition to alternatively fuelled vehicles, my Department continues to work closely with that of Minister Naughten as co-chairs of the Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) Taskforce.

Already the Taskforce have presented early findings and recommendations to Government, which resulted in a number of additional EV incentives being introduced from 2018. Further incentives for the early adoption of LEV technology fuelled by gas and hydrogen will continue to be considered throughout 2018.

Climate change

adaptation

As well as the measures in place to reduce transport emissions in line with our EU and international obligations, we also face the challenge of building climate resilience within the transport sector. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were to completely stop from today, global climate change would continue for many decades as a result of past emissions.

The rise in extreme weather events that Ireland has experienced this year indicate that Ireland’s climate is indeed changing and will continue to change.

This poses two challenges: firstly, the task of ensuring continued services and maintaining infrastructure, for roads, rail, aviation, ports and buses, under sometimes very difficult weather conditions. Secondly, the need to protect new assets by ensuring that today’s design specifications will adequately address tomorrow’s infrastructure needs.

Climate Change Adaptation Plan publication

I am therefore delighted to announce that I have published Transport’s first Climate Change Adaptation Plan, Developing Resilience to Climate Change in the Irish Transport Sector. The Plan outlines climate research and analysis on the likely impacts of climate change – including, for instance, more frequent storm events, rising sea levels and increased incidents of flooding.

The Plan also highlights the positive ongoing work in climate change adaptation within the transport sector and other sectors.

Next steps

Of course, this Plan is not a complete roadmap towards climate resilience but rather the first step on Ireland’s journey towards safeguarding the transport sector from the environmental, economic and social impacts of climate change. My Department will continue to support our ‘front-line actors’ - transport agencies and local authorities – to identify potential vulnerabilities within their operations and to consider how these can be addressed.

Given the expected increase in transport demand and the investment we will be making to add capacity, it is of particular importance that the need for adaptation and indeed for mitigation as well, is mainstreamed into future policy - not least in the development of the National Planning Framework to ensure the long-term sustainability of the transport sector.

Concluding remarks

It is clear that adapting to climate change will be an ongoing process. A statutory National Adaptation Framework is being developed under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, 2015 and will be submitted to Government by Minister Naughten for approval before the end of 2017.

Following approval of the Framework by Government, work in my Department will be focused on the preparation of a statutory adaptation plan for the transport sector to put in place a suite of measures to limit the potential damage of climate change.

Equally, the mitigation measures that I have outlined will develop and progress in the years to come, particularly as new technologies come into play. For instance, hydrogen power may yet play a significant role in helping achieve our 2050 objective. The National Mitigation Plan will be continually updated as research, policy and innovations generate additional cost-effective options.

Through continued close co-operation between my Department and other key departments, the transport sector is developing a strong approach to ensure greenhouse gas emission mitigation, as well as measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change. With the right approach, I am confident that the transport sector can and will remain a key player in supporting the Irish economy and society into the future.

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