I thank the committee for the invitation to speak at the meeting. I echo the congratulations to the committee for its report on transport emissions last month.
I am a lecturer in energy systems modelling in University College Cork, UCC, and I lead research and model development within the MaREI Centre. Most recently, I have been leading the development of the new TIMES-Ireland energy systems model, funded by the Department, and supporting the Climate Change Advisory Council on carbon budget deliberations. I also have expertise in transport energy modelling and was a former colleague of Mr. Cazzola at the International Energy Agency.
Our modelling points to how challenging meeting the target of halving greenhouse gases by 2030 will be. With business-as-usual energy demands, and without breakthrough technologies, we will see marginal abatement costs of well over €1,000 per tonne by 2030. That means every sector will need to push for maximum feasible abatement or throwing the kitchen sink at the problem, as my colleague said. Incremental changes will not be enough to meet the target. It is likely that the transport sector will be required to reduce emissions faster than others. Depending on our assumptions of technology availability, the evolution of demands and efforts across other sectors, in particular agriculture, which is the other main emitting sector, our TIMES model sees transport emissions falling by between 45% and 65% by 2030. To succeed in that regard, it is likely that meeting the target of nearly 1 million EVs on our road by 2030 is necessary but, at the same time, that will be insufficient to meet the goal. The point is not that there is a choice between EVs or active travel. We need to use all of those means.
This point is reinforced by the recently published Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, emissions projections, which show that the measures in the 2019 climate action plan, including the 1 million EV target, will only see emissions from transport reduced by a quarter, as growth in activity, meaning people driving more, offsets the emissions savings from the measures. We have witnessed that in the past. It is clear that technology and fuel switches alone will not be sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement targets and could make energy more expensive, less reliable, and potentially require us to rely on imported biofuels in the near term, and negative emissions options like biomass with carbon capture and storage in the longer term. These are all problematic and could lead to unintended consequences.
The mitigation effort in transport is mainly framed around the number of EVs in 2030. That is problematic. It is like me planning to lose weight based on how much salad I will eat next year when the real effort should be on reducing the volume of junk food I am eating. In the transport sector, we should focus all efforts on reducing the number of cars, vans and trucks burning petrol and diesel, and minimising their use. Electrification is an important way of achieving that goal but it is by no means sufficient or optimal in all cases. We need to remember that oil use in transport needs to halve and go back to the level consumed in 1994 in less than ten years.
To achieve that, we need not just to focus on maximising the sale of EVs, we need to immediately minimise the number of new internal combustion engine vehicles brought into the country. That includes hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Our modelling sees little role for those cars, going forward. That also includes second-hand vehicles. Every car and van that uses petrol or diesel that is brought into this country from now will cause significant emissions well into our third carbon budget period.
It is concerning that sports utility vehicles, SUVs, comprise half of new car sales, up from 13% a decade ago. SUV sales far outstrip those of EVs. If we delay new car sales by a number of years until EVs have come down in price and charging infrastructure has improved, it will put us in a much better position. Focussing on EVs alone also fails to tackle strong growth in emissions from freight transport, which is a sector we do not hear enough about. Biofuels will also be needed. As far as possible, those biofuels, which will be needed to meet our 2030 target, should be produced domestically using strict sustainability practices, rewarding farmers who switch from livestock production. There are strong win-wins in that scenario.
We need to reduce the activity levels of cars, vans and trucks. In UCC, we are also developing models to understand how and why we travel. For example, included in my submission to the committee is a suggestion that more than one fifth of passenger transport emissions are from so-called companion journeys, nearly as much as for commuting. Much of that is for the school run. In 1986, less than a quarter of primary school students travelled to school by car. That share is now 60% and increasing. For secondary students, the share has increased from 11% to 42%. Only 2% of secondary school students now cycle to school. In 1986, more students cycled than went to school by car. This is not a surprise. The number of cars on the road has tripled since 1990, leaving much less space for people. We have devoted much of our public realm to vehicles to the extent that it is hostile to people, especially children. For example, many of my local primary schools do not even have footpaths leading to them and it is difficult to navigate those that have footpaths when one is pushing a pram and holding the hand of a toddler. This situation was not inevitable and is a failure of policy and planning.
In our research, we have also found that nearly 40% of passenger transport emissions arise from trips shorter than 8 km, a distance that can be comfortably cycled by most people, especially with an ebike. EVs will have the greatest value if they replace longer distance trips, especially trips which cannot be easily switched to bus or rail.
Another motivation for tackling and improving efficiency is the fact that if we do not, we may put immense pressure on the electricity grid. The growth in renewables may not be able to keep up with demand growth. Our modelling suggests that combining already strong business-as-usual energy demand growth with data centre demand and the electrification of transport could lead to a doubling of electricity demand by 2030. That means that efficiency is still a critically important decarbonising measure even in EVs. Smaller and more efficient EVs are better than large ones. That insight applies to all sources of electricity growth.
To look at alternatives to this business-as-usual scenario, we have modelled a new low-energy demand scenario pathway, which includes avoid and shift-type measures for all sectors. Our analysis is clear that the transition to 2030 will be far more feasible with lower energy demands. It brings down those marginal abatement costs to less hair-raising levels.
I call for more transparency behind the analysis underpinning national climate mitigation targets. In UCC, we have been opening up our models, making them open source and open data to great benefit. There is an expression in the community that all models are wrong but some are useful. The models are not crystal balls; they are only a product of who is using them and how they are being used. Stakeholders and society can only reach consensus on the best way forward if we start from a common understanding of data and assumptions. I thank the committee for its time and look forward to the questions and discussion to follow.