EPA calls for reduction in number of car trips as Ireland’s transport emissions rise

— Increase in transport emissions comes as campaigners say Government falling far short on funding for cycling.

Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency said last night that, as well as switching towards electric vehicles, the country needs a reduction in the number of car journeys — the agency made the call as it released data showing that Ireland is moving further from its climate commitments.

The EPA said that Ireland exceeded its annual emissions allocation for 2018 under the EU’s Effort Sharing Decision by over 5 million tonnes, which follows an exceedance of 3 million tonnes in 2017.

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions showed a marginal decrease of 0.2% in 2018. The EPA said that the decrease resulted from significant reductions in the energy sector, some of which were temporary and which were largely offset by growth in emissions from sectors such as households, transport, and agriculture.

The EPA said: “These figures show that Ireland is falling short in terms of lowering our emissions, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and playing our part in responding to global climate change which requires holding the increase in the global temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.”

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, said: “Ireland has exceeded its annual EU emissions budget for the third year in a row, and by a margin of over 5 million tonnes. At a time of global urgency to address climate change this is a national trend that we must reverse. It is time for businesses and communities to support and be supported in taking action to reduce emissions. Ireland must implement the ambitious commitments in the 2019 Climate Action Plan to play its role in averting the worst impacts of climate change.”

The EPA said that transport emissions increased by 1.7% in 2018. In a statement, the EPA said: “This is the fifth year out of the last six with increased emissions in transport reflecting our growing economy with more movement of people and goods. In road transport in 2018, petrol use continued to decrease by 9.2% while diesel use increased by 4.6% and biofuels use decreased by 4.0%.”

The statement from the EPA continued: “Reversing this trend will require the widespread transition to electric vehicles, increased use of public transport and reducing the number of car journeys.”

Residential emissions increased by 7.9%, largely due to last year’s cold winter and the country’s reliance on oil for home heating, and Agriculture emissions increased by 1.9%.

There was an 11.7% decrease in energy industry emissions, but part of this was largely driven by maintenance works at the Moneypoint power station, although it also included an increase in renewable energy. The EPA also said that in 2018, electricity generated from wind increased by 14% with the proportion of electricity generation from renewables now at 32.6%.

Stephen Treacy, Senior Manager in the Office of Environmental Sustainability, said: “These figures show the positive impact of reduced use of carbon-intensive fuels such as coal in power generation, whether intentionally or otherwise, on achieving significant emissions reductions.”

He added: “However, emission increases in the transport and agriculture sectors in 2018 were largely driven by increased activity, highlighting that emissions in these sectors are still closely coupled with economic growth. Breaking this link requires urgent behavioural change across all sectors of Irish society.”

The news of increased emissions comes after cycling groups criticised the low allocation for cycling in the Government’s Budget 2020, announced two week ago.

Last week, Cyclist.ie — an umbrella group of most cycling campaigns — said: “Following widespread criticism over the initial announcement of €9 million carbon tax funding for cycling during the Budget statement by Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross tweeted that the government had allocated €114 million to cycling in Budget 2020. This was subsequently broken down as €23 million for ‘cycling’ greenways and €91 Million for walking and cycling facilities in urban areas.”

It said: “Greenways are provided for both pedestrians and cyclists so out of an allocation of €23 Million, the cyclist proportion would be 50% or €11.5 Million. Regarding walking and cycling facilities in urban areas, 31% of total NTA expenditure was spent on cycling in the Greater Dublin area and the Regional Cities. For the purposes of forecasting cycling expenditure in 2020, this percentage was rounded up to 33% which equates to €30 Million. Therefore Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, estimates that the departmental expenditure on cycling in 2020 will be approximately €42 Million. Anyone who thinks that the Minister is committed to spending €114 Million on cycling, may be “at the races” (to use his own words) but is dreaming about the results.”

“This exaggeration in cycle funding is not the first overestimation by the Minister/Department. In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister claimed that in 2018 cycling expenditure was 3.1% of the capital budget. Cyclist.ie estimates it at 1.0%.”

“€42 Million is 2.2% of the total Land Transport capital budget and compares to expenditure on roads of €1120 Million. The Minister also refers to minor spending by other departments on transport (cycling) projects but Cyclist.ie notes that he omits to refer to expenditure of nearly €200 Million by other departments on roads,” Cyclist.ie said.

The group added: “Last January, a majority of the Dáil voted for 10% of transport funding to be allocated to cycling; the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action recommended 10%; and Ireland’s Climate Plan 2019 also refers to 10%. Cyclist.ie laid down a marker for Budget 2020 of a cycling allocation of 10% of the Land Transport capital budget which equates to €194 Million. Existing cyclists and the many people who want to see increased cycling in our communities, including those who were demonstrating on the streets last week, will not be satisfied with less.”

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

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