State must act urgently to tackle climate change, committee told

Climate action committee hears criticism of National Development Plan’s emphasis on motorways

More and better public transport and an increased use of environmentally friendly manufacturing materials need to happen urgently if Ireland is to honour commitments made to tackle climate change, an Oireachtas committee heard.

The Joint Committee on Climate Action was looking at ways to develop a sustainable transport network and heard from representatives of the biofuel and manufacturing sectors as well as academics and civil servants.

James Cogan of Ethanol Europe stressed the need to move further away from fossil energy, which remained the State's biggest source of climate-harming greenhouse gas emissions.

He pointed out that 40 per cent of energy-related emissions come from diesel and petrol vehicles and, in spite of Government commitments to move towards electric vehicles, that number would increase in both relative and absolute terms in the years ahead.



He said it would be several years before the diesel and petrol fleet reached peak size and “a couple of decades more before electrics match diesel and petrol, and by that time the total fleet will be close to double the size it is today”.

Ireland was “guilty on two fronts” and needed “to do more to build the electric fleet that we would want in an ideal scenario and we need to take serious action to reduce the carbon footprint of the fleet we have, and that the Irish people continue to invest in”.

He suggested claims Ireland had reached a level of 7.2 per cent renewable energy in transport were misleading as “nearly half of this figure is actually regular fossil diesel” counted as renewable due to a legal loophole.

He said “much of the other half is comprised of used cooking oil biodiesel which comes from regions where fraud is carried out on a huge scale, with virgin palm oil being falsely labelled as used cooking oil”.

Transport issues, particularly in the context of regional development, were addressed by Prof Edgar Morgenroth of the Dublin City University business school, who called for a significant improvement in the services on Ireland's existing rail network.

He criticised the National Development Plan’s emphasis on motorways and said to achieve reduced emissions from transport, it would require infrastructure, “particularly public transport infrastructure to be put in place in the cities, and not between cities where it would facilitate sprawl”.

Urban environments

He called for more emphasis on "second-tier cities such as Cork, Limerick and Galway" and said urban environments would have to be "sufficiently attractive for people to want to live in a higher-density environment".

Composite materials will be “essential to deliver the Irish Government’s Climate Action Plan 2019”, Dr Terry McGrail of the Irish Composites Centre told the hearing.

He said composites were lightweight and could give 50 per cent weight reduction compared to metals and concrete and “directly assist with the fight against climate change”.

He pointed out if a vehicle weight is reduced by 10 per cent then fuel consumption is reduced by about 7 per cent which would mean 12g less carbon per kilometre. Composite part manufacturing also uses less energy than metals and cement.

He said Government and public awareness of composites was “minimal” and support and investment was very low.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast