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The Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change: 7 Questions To Raise on Climate Action in the Transport Sector

November 3 2017, 12:43pm

 On the 4th and 5th of November, the Citizens’ Assembly will conclude a ground-breaking process in democratic decision-making on climate change. Following an inspiring initial meeting in October, the Assembly will return to the topic of ‘How the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change’.

The Assembly meeting includes a specific session on climate action in the transport sector. Here are the 7 questions that we’d like to see the speakers answer, together with some background information on the issues:

1. Is it true that the National Transport Authority’s Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area is allowing emissions to increase to 2035? What increases/decreases are expected with the implementation of the NTA's plans for the rest of the country over this period?

 

  • The National Transport Authority (NTA) estimates an 11% increase in emissions from the Greater Dublin Area every year between 2016 and 2035 as it implements its Strategy. It predicts a 2% higher increase if its Strategy is not implemented. To the best of our knowledge, the NTA has not published any predictions for GHG emissions for the rest of the country.

  • There is an urgent need for the Government, and agencies such as the NTA, to focus on decarbonising Ireland’s transport sector. Transport is the only sector to have increased its share of emissions since 1990. In fact, emissions have doubled since 1990 to one fifth of Ireland’s total. Actual total transport emissions rose 4% in 2015 and are continuing to rise quickly. The Environmental Protection Agency expects a 13% increase in national GHG emissions from transport between 2016 and 2035.

 

2. What best practice examples of low-carbon transport systems in other countries is Ireland learning from?​

 

  • For example, in Switzerland an integrated public transport system works on a fully integrated timetable, ensuring connections for public transport trips, and in the canton of Zurich every settlement with over 300 jobs, residents or educational places must be provided with public transport.

3. What are the most cost-effective ​and quickest investments which would reduce GHG emissions from transport?

 

  • To take just one example, there is considerable information available on the environmental, economic, health and societal benefits of cycling and much greater investment in high-quality cycle paths is needed throughout Ireland. The need for greater investment is also evidenced by the decisions of Irish commuters -  the number of people using sustainable modes of transport (such as bus, train, Luas, walking and cycling) to travel into Dublin city centre is increasing year on year, and now accounts for over two thirds of all journeys.

 

4. Encouraging more electric vehicles is an important step, but what must Ireland do to support a shift to zero-carbon modes of travel?

 

  • In order to reduce transport emissions, the Government should firstly realign current and capital investment to achieve the goals of the 2009 Smarter Travel Policy. An increased transport budget is not required to achieve these goals. We rather need to increase the share of transport investment that goes to walking, cycling and ‘clean’ public transport.

  • It’s important to note that improvements in energy efficiency alone​, such as electrification of transport, will not be enough to reduce Ireland’s emissions. A shift to walking, cycling and public transport, as well as other measures such as pricing, are needed. A recent report for the European Environment Agency put it this way: "meeting decarbonisation goals for the sector requires not only incremental changes like the wider introduction of electric vehicles and improved fuel efficiency in planes and ships, but also more far reaching changes to lifestyles and habits which greatly influence the way we use transport."

5. Why is the Government ignoring the health benefits of active travel and continuing to support polluting diesel cars?

  • Diesel still accounts for 2 out of every 3 new cars bought in Ireland, one of the highest rates in the world. According to analysis from the European Environment Agency, more than 14,000 years of life are lost every year in Ireland due to particulates, and diesel cars are the single largest cause. Diesel exhaust fumes cause cancer, the World Health Organisation confirmed in 2012. The average diesel car emits at least 10 times more health-damaging pollutants than a petrol car. Particulates penetrate sensitive parts of the lungs, causing or worsening respiratory diseases, such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. Particulates also aggravate heart disease.

  • But the Government is not responding; in the recent Budget decision for 2018, the Government decided to leave both tax on diesel, as well as the carbon tax, unchanged. Instead the Government decided to commission yet another study on carbon taxes. Professor John Fitzgerald, Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, recently commented in the Irish Times: ‘Since 1991, the ESRI has published an average of one such study a year. All have delivered the same message: raising the tax on carbon is a crucial policy instrument to tackle climate change. We need action, not further studies.’

6. Much legislation and regulations on transport come from the EU. What should the Government do to ensure a positive approach at EU level?

  • When it comes to vehicle efficiency standards, Ireland has the opportunity to join with other progressive Member States in pushing for greater ambition in new EU standards for new cars and vans. This work is pressing as the EU Commission is due to present new proposals for cars and vans this month. Mapping out the need to cut emissions by 30% by 2030, the Brussels-based NGO, Transport & Environment, has analysed these standards and made recommendations for Ireland at EU and domestic level.

  • The situation is much more disturbing when it comes to EU legislation on emissions targets covering transport and agriculture that is currently being negotiated in Brussels. Ireland has pushed for the inclusion of several loopholes in this draft legislation which concerns reductions in polluting emissions to be made by EU Member States between 2021 and 2030. Staggeringly the weak provisions as currently proposed would see Ireland’s required efforts going from a 10% additional reduction in emissions to just 1% and would seriously undermine the ambition of all EU Member States. This destructive and embarrassing approach has been highlighted by the Irish Times and by experts in Brussels, serving to further damage Ireland’s reputation. The Government needs to immediately change its position in these negotiations which come to an end in just a few weeks and support the constructive proposals of other Member States, such as Germany and Luxembourg.

7. What is Ireland doing about rising emissions from the aviation industry?

The impact of business as usual growth in global aviation has been largely ignored and emissions are rising.  Aviation is becoming more efficient but it's growing much faster. If we allow it to grow at predicted rates it will make the achievement of our Paris Agreement commitments impossible. See analysis of the UK Committee on Climate Change here.

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The Citizens’ Assembly is also discussing climate action in the agriculture sector
.
See the 5 Key Questions often faced by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition when it comes to climate change and agriculture.

So what recommendations should the Citizens’ Assembly make to the Government? In a joint submission the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and the Environmental Pillar have put forward 18 practical recommendations that would (1) bring the years of inaction to an end, (2) move Ireland to the level of most of our EU partners, and (3) take a leadership role in certain areas, notwithstanding our poor record to date. They range across all sectors of the economy and society: energy, buildings, transport and agriculture. 

Our press release also has further information, quotes and insights on the upcoming Assembly meeting.