EPA data shows AA underplayed impact of cars on climate change to Oireachtas Committee

— AA spokesman said he isn’t a man-made climate change denier
— But suggested humans breathing as a larger problem than cars.

AA spokesman Conor Faughnan told an Oireachtas Committee that “we are being singularly unfair to the private car” on climate change emissions, but his statements on this issue does not tally with figures provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Faughnan was speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport’s discussion on “A Vision for Public Transport” on November 23, 2016.

According to a copy of the parliamentary record kept by kildarestreet.com, Faughnan said: “The private car gets a bad deal out of this because of all the sources of CO2 and climate change emissions in our country, the sector that has made the most progress is the private car and its contribution to emissions has been steadily reducing,” and he stated: “We frequently hear that the transport sector accounts for 18% emissions and that we must do something about private car usage but we do not hear that the emissions being generated by private car component are steadily reducing.”

EPA figures, however, show that car-related CO2 emissions increased from 1990 to 2007, then stabilised and dropped to 2011, but then stabilised and rose in 2015. So, the statement that the private car “contribution to emissions has been steadily reducing” is overall false.

Cars are producing 239% of the CO2 they were producing in 1990 and 90% of what they were producing in 2008.

IMAGE: Emissions from cars in Ireland by years. Chart based on EPA data.

Faughnan added: “When one gets statistics on this area, one will frequently see a reference to the transport sector, not to private cars. The transport sector includes road freight, rail and shipping and aviation is not included under any heading.”

But, while Faughnan is correct that aviation is not counted, the idea that road freight is having a more notable impact compared to cars is not back up by the official figures which show that cars alone are producing 375% of the CO2 produced by HGVs (trucks) and buses combined.

Irish Rail’s accounts in 2015 show that the company used 409,700,000 MWh of diesel fuel in 2015. That amounts to Irish Rail producing 111,725 tonnes CO2 — about 1% of the CO2 that road transport did.

Faughnan continued: “To put this in context, if we can imagine a family of four using a band B car that is bought now, a 162 D registered car which would be a decent sized family car, that car would have to clock up more 16,000 km per year before CO2 emissions from its tailpipe would match what the family produce through breathing in a year, yet we continually hear the private car being mentioned as if it was the only thing in the country that was contributing to emissions.”

The above is a false comparison. Human respiration is part of the natural carbon cycle, while burning fossil fuels has rapidly unlocked sequestered carbon. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important green house gas caused by human activity and that “global increases in CO2 concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution.” [Please note: This paragraph is a correction to previous text, see note below]

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Faughnan also said: “If we are fair about climate change, even in its role in this conversation, then we are being singularly unfair to the private car. I do not deny that we have man-made climate change or the fact that we must meet our commitments.”

In the debate on public transport he said cars should remain prominent although not dominant. He used Amsterdam and Copenhagen among examples of cities which have better public transport and mentioned Dublin’s lack a metro railway, but did not mention how Amsterdam and Copenhagen started their major city centre car restrictions before their metros were constructed.

MORE: Read the full “A Vision for Public Transport” debate transcript at kildarestreet.com


CORRECTION: January 30, 2017 at 22:00: Our original fact check of what Faughnan said about emissions from a “decent sized family car” vs “what the family produce through breathing in a year” was an incorrect approach to take. What Faughnan said was incorrect, but our original correction was an incorrect level of correction. We are happy to make this correction. 

For the record, the following paragraph contains the original text before the correction was inserted: “Faughnan chooses a fuel-efficient car and overstates typical family size, while understating car ownership. The typical family size is 2.77, not 4, and Ireland has more private cars than households — many households have more than one car. [paragraph break] Humans in Ireland are estimated to produce 1,562,995 tonnes CO2 by breathing each year, and that only about 14% of what the road transport sector produces — that means the road transport sector produces approximately seven times what humans breathing do.”


  1. And what about NOx, ozone, particulates, noise, clutter, using up space, deaths due to collisions, injuries, obesity thru inactivity, etc etc. Good god, talk about putting spin on a topic.

  2. The whole approach of the motor transport business (vehicle makers, sellers, fuel extractors and lobbyists) is to underplay the detrimental effects made to our environment and society by the use of vehicles. Just like the tobacco business in the past and the drinks industry in the present do in relation to their known downsides. The recent VW emissions scandal is a case in point.
    The downsides are under-played because all of us drive and don’t want our use of the car to be subject to tighter regulation. Our politicians understand this so they are not inclined to act looking to even the near future.

  3. Conor Faughnan is entirely wrong to imply that human respiration contributes to increased CO2 in the atmosphere., unfortunately this post repeats the misleading thinking. Please can you correct the post or attach a note to clarify the point.

    CF incorrectly says:

    “that car would have to clock up more 16,000 km per year before CO2 emissions from its tailpipe would match what the family produce through breathing in a year, yet we continually hear the private car being mentioned as if it was the only thing in the country that was contributing to emissions.”

    CF is deploying a fake argument based on a climate denial zombie myth. In fact, respiration does not affect atmospheric CO2 at all because “by breathing out, we are simply returning to the air the same CO2 that was there to begin with”, see https://skepticalscience.com/breathing-co2-carbon-dioxide.htm

    The breathing of a family (or indeed the total of all humans and animals on Earth) produces no nett emissions at all; unlike burning fossil fuel, which continually and permanently adds to the CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere.

    It is simply extraordinary (or maybe not) that CF used this falsehood in testimony to the Dáil committee. The record needs to be corrected.

    Unfortunately the post above also suggests that the myth is a fact by saying:

    “Humans in Ireland are estimated to produce 1,562,995 tonnes CO2 by breathing each year, and that only about 14% of what the road transport sector produces — that means the road transport sector produces approximately seven times what humans breathing do.”

    As noted above, human breathing produces no nett emissions so this paragraph is wrong – best to correct it. And ask CF for his sources.

  4. I can’t believe how many think that Faughnan is the voice of reason in the car promotion lobby. He may not be a Clarkson level prick, but he is still a prick. As Citizen Wolf points out he completely ignores the other harmful pollutants of cars to pick on CO2 and then ignores the point that Paul Price made which is that the NET emissions of CO2 from humans is 0 since we are just moving around what is already there. It is inconceivable that Faughnan doesn’t have access to this information so he is deliberately omitting it, making him a liar as well as a prick.

    One additional inaccuracy. He insinuates that people constantly complain about the private car “as if it was the only thing contributing to emissions”. This is not true. People routinely criticise the environmental impact of air travel, the fact half the products we buy are shipped around the world and power generation. Once again, it is impossible to believe that Faughnan isn’t aware of that. The reasons people aren’t complaining about human emissions of CO2 are twofold. Firstly, as ably pointed out by others already, that it is wrong. Secondly, what exactly are we supposed to do about it? Does Faughnan think we should develop more efficient people? Is he suggesting population control? He is saying that because something we have no control over is bad, we should give a free pass to something we do have control over because it is not quite as bad. Because he loves his car and his whole career is based on promoting car use.

  5. I’ve just read this again. I think Faughnan went to the Kelly-Anne Conway school of alternative facts. Utterly bizarre stuff coming from Faughnan. He has to know he’s being disingenuous. He’s going down the road of big-tobacco type of smearing/obfuscating/denying. SMH


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