Given that we are in a climate and biodiversity emergency, a greater impetus is required to deliver high-quality public transport in our cities. File picture: Larry Cummins
The country’s latest Energy Balance report, which provides complete information on Ireland’s energy use, was published this week, and the results are not what we want to see.
The Sustainable Energy Authority Of Ireland (SEAI), which produces the report, said that although we have committed to reducing our CO2 emissions by 4.8% per annum from 2021 to 2025 under the first carbon budget, energy-related emissions were instead up 5.4% in 2021
They are now back at the same level as 2019 after a temporary reduction due to Covid-related restrictions, it added. The report said that a rebound in car use after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions is a significant contributor to Ireland’s increased emissions. 
Energy demand for transport rose by 8.3% from its significant suppression in 2020. 
“Private car use is by far the largest transport sub-sector and accounts for 43% of all transport energy demand. Energy demand by private cars is 67% greater than the combined demand of both heavy goods and light goods commercial vehicles on Irish roads. 
“These numbers highlight the urgent need to reduce the climate impact of private car use by increasing the number of journeys we make by foot, by bicycle, and on public transport, while simultaneously replacing petrol and diesel cars with EVs,” the SEAI said.

“Provisional data from the first  six months of 2022 indicates that demand for petrol is up by 27%, compared to the same period in 2021, and the demand for diesel is up by 15%, as consumption of both fossil fuels return to pre-Covid levels.”
While this may be expected, it underlines the urgent requirement for change in the transport sector with a necessary shift to cycling, walking, public transport, and electric vehicles and eliminating unnecessary car journeys, it added.
The results are not surprising. Research that has been conducted in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) shows that there is indeed a rebound happening in car numbers as the economy returns to 2019 levels after the pandemic.
Electric cars
The key message here is simple – reducing transport emissions is going to take time, investment, and patience. On a monthly basis, we were provided with new electric car numbers showing that we are very slowly creeping towards the one million electric car target for 2030. 
However, research recently published in a collaboration between TCD and Queens University Belfast shows that these cars are being purchased in urban areas, and in these areas, they have very short distances to travel. The more rural parts of Ireland, where we see larger distances traveled, are not seeing the same numbers of electric cars purchased. 
Also, electric cars are a very expensive way to decarbonise the transport sector, and as these vehicles spend up to 90% of their time parked, one would have to question the rationale for providing such large subsidies for these vehicles. Indeed, if a wind turbine or a solar farm were only providing energy 10% of the time, one would question that investment.

Recently, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan called upon local authorities across the country to speed up the rate at which they were spending on active modes of travel. 
While this call to arms is welcomed, one must also realise it is happening within an environment whereby a considerable amount of cycling and walking infrastructure improvements are contested at every turn
We are often told about the cycling rates in Denmark and the Netherlands and how they have higher car ownership rates than we currently have. This cycling culture did not happen overnight. It is something that has happened through a generational change in cycling habits and also unprecedented investment in cycling infrastructure. 
Public transport
In a climate emergency, it is this type of big bold idea that we need. With the exception of Dublin, our public transport usage rates in our cities is very low. It clearly shows that public transport in these cities is not seen as a viable alternative to the car and more needs to be done to encourage people onto these modes of transport. 
This can be achieved by one of two methods – improve public transport provision, or introduce congestion charging and parking charges. I would not be in favour of the latter until substantial improvements are made to public transport. 
Given that we are in a climate and biodiversity emergency, a greater impetus is required to deliver high-quality public transport in our cities. In the short run up to 2030, it is hard to conceive how these cities would have the time to construct light rail systems and therefore every effort needs to be made to put in the best quality bus services in these areas. 
Light rail will be needed in many cities to achieve our 2050 targets – planning needs to happen now. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how the results announced by the SEAI will reverse within the next 12 to 24 months. 

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As I suggested, changing transport behavior takes a long time and a large amount of investment, while electric cars will provide some alleviation towards the end of the decade to reach our climate goals. But, if we are serious about reversing the carbon profile of transport, we need systemic change. 
This change requires the re-ordering of priorities in our urban realm, more space for pedestrians and cyclists, freeing the streets of cars to provide quick and effective bus transport. Acting like we are in the emergency that we declared is required now, and plans need to come to fruition with great speed.

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