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'If everyone drives, no one gets anywhere quickly', says Minister for Transport

Minister Eamon Ryan has said that switching to electric vehicles will help reach climate targets but will not be enough to solve congestion problems.

MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT and Climate Eamon Ryan has said that electric vehicle uptake will help to reach climate targets but will not solve the congestion problems faced by Irish towns and cities.

Speaking to a committee of TDs and senators this afternoon, the minister said that Ireland needs “system change towards a much healthier transport system, in every way, and more efficient transport system”. 

As part of climate action plans, the government has set high targets for increasing the use of electric vehicles in Ireland to replace vehicles that are powered by petrol and diesel, which create air pollution and rely on burning fossil fuels that release harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

“The switch to electric vehicles is very beneficial in climate terms and it’s very much to be desired for energy security reasons as well,” Minister Ryan said today.

“But there is another issue. It isn’t just climate,” he said.

If we just replace all fossil fuel cars with electric vehicles, we will still have the gridlock problems that we have.

“We’ve a mathematical difficulty, particularly in a lot of our towns and cities, where if everyone drives, then no one gets anywhere quickly, because everyone gets stuck in traffic.

“Electric vehicles have a real, important role. We need to switch as fast as we can to switch away from fossil fuels. But that on its own is not the full picture – we cannot rely just on technological solutions.”

The minister was speaking before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport to discuss the sector’s progress on decarbonisation.

Under the sectoral emissions ceilings introduced last year, which place limits on the amount of emissions that each sector is allowed to produce, transport must reduce its emissions by 50%.

It’s the second-highest target of any sector after electricity, where emissions are to be cut by 75%.

Measures for the transport sector in the Climate Action Plan include a 20% reduction in vehicle kilometres, a reduction in fuel usage, increased trips taken with sustainable forms of transport, and having 936,000 electric vehicles on the roads by 2030.

Minister Ryan told the committee that the sector is on track to comply with the limits set down during the first carbon budget cycle spanning from 2021 to 2025.

He said early estimates show that “in total, 40.1% of the first five-year carbon budget for transport has been expended over the first two years 2021 and 2022″.

“However, our compliance with our sectoral emissions ceiling is finely balanced, and I cannot overstate the level and scale of the challenge we face and transport in order to ensure we stay in compliance with our carbon budget over future years.

He pointed out that a “significant share of the emissions abatement achieved in the transport sector over these two years result from the reduced level of transport activity experienced as the country was still emerging from Covid-19 and the relaxation of public health restrictions in 2021″.

“We believe such levels of activity have now returned back to pre-Covid levels and are reflected in the growth in fuel usage reports by Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which saw diesel use increase in 2022 by 5% and petrol use by 13.6%.

“Though this trend is concerning, these increases have been mitigated to a degree by the buoyant uptake of electric vehicles with some 88,000 EVs now on our roads, and the strong recovery of public transport patronage and the rollout of additional public transport services over the past year.”

Also speaking in public today was Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who is in Iceland to attend a Council of Europe summit.

The Taoiseach was asked by The Journal whether summits such as this should be held in places that require international travel in the context of the impact on the climate.

“I think we learned two things from the pandemic,” the Taoiseach responded.

“First of all, that is possible to do video conferences and to do them effectively and they’re much more common than they used to be.

“But we’ve also learned that video conferences and remote meetings on their own aren’t enough and we do actually need to be able to meet in person and have those sidebars and those private conversations and those informal meetings over dinner and lunch that make a big difference.

“So I think the pandemic has probably taught us that we need to do both, really.”

Additional reporting by Diarmuid Pepper

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