OECD report calls for more Government funding to decarbonise transport in Ireland

A new report by the OECD and Climate Change Advisory Council has called on extra Government funding to decarbonise transport in Ireland and adds extra weight to the idea that Ireland will not effectively decarbonise transport by just switching to electric cars.

The report, Redesigning Ireland’s Transport for Net Zero: Towards Systems that Work for People and the Planet, is being launched this morning by transport Minister Eamon Ryan.

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The report — which can be found on the OECD’s website — calls on actions such as quicker road space reallocation, and provision of on-demand shared services such as ‘dial a ride’ shuttle buses or rental bikes.

It said that better communication of the required changes and their benefits is needed.

In a press release issued about the launch, Minister Ryan said that he would be “over the coming weeks” announcing the first batch of Pathfinder Projects that his Department has chosen to fund. As previously reported, Minister Ryan had asked councils to bid for funding for projects that “demonstrate a pathway to achieving climate goals”.

Walking, cycling and public transport projects are among the suggestions that councils have put forward.

Minister Ryan said that Pathfinder Projects would “bring to life the type of highly transformative measures” identified in the report by the CCAC and OECD. 

Minister Ryan said: Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing the final assessed Pathfinder Projects for towns, cities and townlands from Donegal to Kerry. These projects will be delivered in the next two to three years and will begin to demonstrate practically, by people using them, that we can use our road space differently, we can re-imagine our towns and cities, we can begin to shift our focus from the car to other more sustainable transport systems.”

He said: “The report’s findings on what are the most impactful and transformative measures, which will also increase people’s wellbeing, strongly reflect and support what we are seeking to deliver overall through our Sustainable Mobility Policy, the work of our Leadership Group and this ‘Pathfinder Programme’.

“The scale of the challenge we face in decarbonising transport, as highlighted in this report, will not be easy and will require a truly transformative level of behavioural and systems change over years. The perspective in this report is rightly on making changes now that will deliver a net zero future for transport to 2050,” the Minister said.

Minister Ryan said: The longer-term focus should be on reducing demand and systemic changes that address car dependence. I would also reinforce, however, the need to continue our focus on electrification of our passenger and public transport fleet, as set out in our Climate Action Plan, as an appropriate measure for the medium term to 2030.” 


The following are work-for-word sections from the report showing the key findings and recommendations:

Key findings

The Irish transport system fosters growing car use and emissions by design, and is thus unfit to enable the country to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals while improving well-being. Growing car use in Ireland is largely determined by car-dependent transport and urban systems, organised around increased mobility and characterised by three unsustainable dynamics: induced car demand, urban sprawl, and the sustainable modes low-attractiveness trap.

Aiming at decarbonising the system via private vehicle improvements is unlikely to lead to substantially different patterns of behaviour, rapid emissions reductions, and large well-being improvements. Car-dependent systems make rapid electrification slow and difficult, by locking-in large and growing vehicle fleets. Even with improved (and fully-electric) vehicles, they also fail to reduce life-cycle emissions, address accessibility gaps and other negative impacts (e.g. road fatalities).

Implemented policies and those expected to bring the highest emission reduction shares according to Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2021 are unlikely to help the country transform its car-dependent system. Most efforts in Ireland have been allocated to policies with a low to medium potential to transform the current system (e.g. electric vehicle incentives for private cars, increasing the budget allocated to public transport infrastructure compared to what is allocated to car infrastructure, carbon and road prices, infill/brownfield development targets). Currently prioritised policies, such as electric vehicle incentives, also reinforce car dependency, further locking the country into a system that fosters growing car use and emissions by design.

Ireland could unleash enormous opportunities by prioritising policies with a high potential for transforming its car-dependent system. While taking different shapes, transformation of the transport system away from car dependency is possible in different types of territories (e.g. Dublin, Cork, Sligo, and Kildare).

Policies with a high transformative potential include road space reallocation, the mainstream of on-demand shared services and communication efforts to address car-centric mindsets. Currently, these policies are marginal and implemented on a small scale. The recently issued (2022) Sustainable Mobility Policy increases the centrality of transformative policies, reflecting an effort towards transformative change.

Key recommendations

Redefine the goal of the transport system as sustainable accessibility. This calls for challenging ingrained mindsets and shifting away from identifying high/growing mobility with well-being. Revisiting measurement frameworks and models is also relevant. Setting sustainable accessibility as a goal for land-use/housing planning is also necessary, as ensuring proximity is key for delivering sustainable accessibility.

Prioritise the up-scale of policies with high potential to transform the car-dependent system. While no single policy can transform a complex system, policies with a high transformative potential can help Ireland redesign the structure of its transport system so that sustainable transport modes are the first choice for the bulk of trips. As mentioned above, the actions included in the recently issued Sustainable Mobility Policy have a higher focus on transformative policies. These actions can be complemented and enlarged with the actions recommended in this report to ensure the upscale of such policiesReflecting the recommendations in this report in the upcoming update of the Climate Action Plan will also be relevant. The effectiveness of the policies identified as having a low or medium transformative potential in car-dependent systems can increase when implemented alongside transformative policies.

Redefine the electrification strategy to support the transition towards a sustainable transport system. Embed the electrification strategy in the goal of sustainable accessibility and reduced car travel, and make sure the strategy prioritises walking, cycling, micro-mobility and high occupancy and shared travel where larger vehicles are the only option. In line with this recommendation, the current target (included in both the Climate Action Plan and the new Sustainable Mobility Policy) for reducing car travel should include total (rather than solely fossil-fuel-based) car kilometres and be set along with a target on the share of car-kilometres travelled by battery-electric vehicles. More ambitious targets on modal shifts, and targets aiming at delivering improved proximity and access with active and shared modes (including public transport and micro-mobility) need to be set.

Embrace a systemic approach to policy decision-making across government departments. Achieving transformative change will require aligning action across government and addressing existing inconsistencies. Transformative policies can be prioritised by mainstreaming system-focused policy analysis and decisions to ensure a shared understanding of root causes by all stakeholders and to expose ingrained ideas (and related actions) that hinder progress. Rethinking multi-level governance is also required to improve government engagement with stakeholders, promote bottom-up and participatory approaches, increase local capacity to think in terms of systems, and communicate and implement transformative policies.

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