With Irish voters going to the polls this Saturday, political parties have clashed over their respective visions for Ireland’s future. Despite the importance sustainability played as an election issue only nine months ago in the local and European elections, climate action has been overshadowed by housing and healthcare as the key issues of this campaign.
Nonetheless, the Green party’s unexpected success in May, capitalising on frustration over Ireland’s “laggardly” performance on climate action – to quote Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s own admission – prompted a rush by Ireland’s major parties to embrace the “Green Agenda”. This was motivated by the dual desires of winning back environmentally-motivated voters and jockeying for Green Party support to form the next Government – with the Green Party expected to win a number of seats in Dublin.
A renewed focus on Climate Action will be expected from the next Government.
Climate Action Plan
The Government’s Climate Action Plan was published in May, promptly following the local and European elections. The document outlines what Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton TD describes as an “ambitious but realistic” Government strategy to put Ireland on the path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The strategy identifies transport as a pivotal sector for climate action. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transport accounted for almost 20 per cent of all emissions in 2017. Ireland remains behind its peers in its provision of transport infrastructure. It is one of the most cost-effective sectors within which to significantly reduce emissions.
Major reform is coming down the tracks – whoever forms the next Government.
Public transport and electric vehicles
It is expected that the population of Ireland will grow by over one million by 2040 to 5.7 million. This expected population increase and anticipated growth in economic activity will place significant strain on an already stretched public transport service. To date, investment in transport has not kept pace with population growth. Furthermore, the postponement of the Dublin Metro and ongoing delays in the implementation of BusConnects have damaged public confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver major public transport projects.
One of the Climate Action Plan’s more notable targets is to increase the number of electric vehicles on Irish roads to 840,000 by 2030. Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles have been rising and accounted for 10.5 per cent of private car sales in 2019. However, the Action Plan’s targets would represent a seismic rise and have raised significant scepticism from experts and even within the Department of Transport.
With 2019 seeing a 9 per cent increase in public transport passenger numbers – the largest ever increase – transport users are evidently shifting away from private modes of transport. Consumer demand and climate action considerations demand a modal shift in Irish transport.
There is a strong consensus that climate action is necessary and that innovative transport solutions are needed. However, the next Government and whoever leads it, face considerable implementation hurdles if it is to reach its own targets. There is undoubtedly a space and an appetite for industry-led solutions on future mobility to help steer the conversation towards implementing a sustainable transport future – benefiting users, providers and Government alike.