The Government unveiled its latest climate action plan today, making fresh commitments to extend renewable energy, expand public transport and reduce private car use to reduce Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But it stopped short of identifying specific measures that it would take, promising that a schedule of policy actions which would achieve the demanding targets, now set down in law, would be published in the new year.
At a press conference at Leinster House, Minister for Climate Action and Transport Eamon Ryan strongly suggested that car parking in urban centers would be heavily curtailed to push people away from cars and on to public transport, though he acknowledged that substantial improvements in public transport w be needed, saying that it needed to be “super-fast”. The plan confirms decarbonising transport will be the most challenging sector; as a consequence it backs a radical reallocation of road space in urban areas.
Mr Ryan also indicated that free parking for employees in cities would be ended, though there was a noticeable difference in emphasis from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who stressed that “it’s not about getting out a stick to beat people”.
Mr Ryan also suggested that the public sector should lead in tackling climate change, though previous attempts to curtail free parking for the many public servants who enjoy the perk in Dublin have all founded.
He indicated that he was supportive of closing the car park at Leinster House, though both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin, while not expressing objects to the proposal, were more cautious. Mr Martin stressed that the climate plan was “about much more than car parks”.
The plan published on Wednesday does not set out concrete individual measures, which are to be published in a “annexe” to the plan in the new year. But the 275-page document contained strong indications that strongly disincentivising private car use will form a significant part of the strategy to reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector.
It says that “potentially effective measures include removing free workplace parking; increasing parking charges; introduction of congestion and road user charging; and increased fossil fuel prices”.
It adds: “Greater priority and reallocation of existing road space towards public transport and active travel will be a key supporting element”.
Though the plan acknowledges – a point also made by Mr Ryan – that reducing road space for private cars and making it more expensive to bring cars into cities would only work if commuters were given viable public transport options. “Demand side measures will only be effective and acceptable when alternative, more sustainable, options are available,” the plan notes.
“What changes choices is when you have alternatives available,” Mr Ryan said.
This year’s updated climate plan is the first since the Climate Act made it a legal requirement for the Government to abide by its own climate plans. All relevant State bodies must now act based on the plan. At the Government Buildings press conference, Mr Varadkar confirmed that the Government could be subject to legal action if it fails to meet its own targets.
The plan was welcomed by the Climate Change Advisory Council, the independent body set up by the Government to monitor and advise on its climate action programmes.
Chair Marie Donnelly said that the publication of the plan “marks an important step in meeting the legal commitments under the Climate Act.”
“It is the first plan published since the Oireachtas approval of our proposed carbon budgets and the announcement of Sectoral Emissions Ceilings. Now there is an urgent need for the system to concentrate its efforts on implementation to address the gap between ambition and delivery,” s said.
Friends of the Earth said that the plan was “a step in the right direction. The real test now for the new Taoiseach and his ministers is to deliver at pace.
“If Irish emissions don’t start to fall rapidly in 2023, this Government’s carefully constructed credibility on climate will crumble,” chief executive Oisin Coughlan said in a statement.