Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Ceisteanna (16, 17, 18)

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

81 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Transport the action he is taking to curb greenhouse gas emissions for the transport sector here. [6555/07]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Gormley

Ceist:

120 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Transport the measures he will take to reduce the increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the Irish transport sector; and his views on whether the rate of 8% annual increase in emissions will make it difficult for Ireland to comply with the stated European Union target of at least a 20% cut in emissions from 1990 base levels by 2020. [6641/07]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

134 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Transport the measures his Department will take to reduce the level of environmentally damaging emissions from the transport sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6578/07]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (70 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 81, 120 and 134 together.

I am currently implementing a number of policies and measures that will deliver a sustainable transport system, including the provision of supply side infrastructure and demand side management measures, which will reduce congestion and support a modal shift from private to public transport. This will allow the economy to maintain economic competitiveness by removing infrastructural bottlenecks while increasing social cohesion and reducing environmental impacts.

Transport 21, which is a €34.3 billion capital investment framework for the period 2006-15, will promote this modal shift from private cars to public transport through the significant rebalancing of investment in favour of public transport. Overall, €18.5 billion will be invested in the national roads programme, while €15.8 billion will be provided for public transport projects and regional airports. Funding for a range of sustainable transport initiatives is also provided for under Transport 21, including dissemination of information on eco-driving and travel blending as well as support for alternative fuels and technologies for public transport, haulage and taxi fleets.

The completion of projects identified in Transport 21 will see public transport capacity in the greater Dublin area almost double by 2016. Modelling of the impacts of Transport 21 in the greater Dublin area shows a reduction of almost 20% in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions during rush hour in 2016, compared to a situation without Transport 21 in place. That means I will probably achieve the 20% target ahead of schedule. This will happen with the complementary implementation of demand side management measures.

I have also requested my Department to draft a sustainable transport action plan for consultation in 2007. This will support the Government's revised climate change strategy and energy White Paper, due be published in the coming weeks. This action plan will set out measures to assist further the progress of the transport sector along a more sustainable path and will make a critical contribution to reducing emissions in line with Ireland's commitment under the Kyoto Protocol in the period 2008-12 and beyond.

I am also working to achieve emissions reductions in the public transport fleet. I have requested CIE to move to using a 5% biodiesel blend in current CIE vehicles and to plan for a 30% blend in new vehicles. My Department is also supporting a pilot project in conjunction with the German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce to promote the use of 100% pure plant oil in heavy goods vehicles and buses. These measures, together with excise relief and obligatory fuel blending by fuel suppliers in 2009, will contribute to achieving the indicative bio-fuels target of 5.75% of all transport fuels by 2010, as set out in the bio-fuels directive. Technological advances within the automotive industry will be important in bringing more fuel efficient vehicles to the market.

Tackling transport emissions will remain a key priority and I will continue to promote measures to ensure that the transport sector makes its contribution to reducing national greenhouse gas emissions.

We know that transport continues to be responsible for about one third of Ireland's energy-related CO2 emissions. Road transport accounts for about 65% of that and it is clear that if the Government is to take the issue of climate change seriously, it must prioritise the whole area of transport.

We know the situation at present. We know the level of emissions and the enormous contribution transport makes to greenhouse gas emissions. It surely makes sense to set out targets for the reduction of those emissions in the transport sector. It makes even more sense given the policies the Government has been pursuing for the past ten years. Climate change did not happen overnight. Inexplicably, the Government has followed a policy in the past ten years of encouraging car dependence among people. The level of car dependence is far higher than elsewhere and growing each year. From looking at the budget, we know that there has been a huge overspend on roads compared to investment in public transport.

The Minister now talks belatedly about rebalancing that investment, but we are coming from a situation where there has been little or no investment in public transport. The Government's emphasis has been on encouraging greater car ownership, be that through its unsustainable housing policies or through its lack of investment in public transport. As the Minister responsible for the area that makes the greatest contribution to climate change, what targets has he set for transport in the next five to ten years?

There has been a substantial increase in investment in public transport under this Government, as the Deputy rightly mentioned. One of the challenges the Government faced in its early years in office was dealing with a railway network that, by 1997, needed massive investment to prevent it from having to be decommissioned entirely. The Government spent more than €1.5 billion to restructure the railway network and try to make it safe. It is interesting that just €12 million had been invested in the railway network over the previous 20 years, when the Labour Party and Fine Gael had two periods in office. By contrast, some €777 million is being spent on public transport this year.

How many years behind schedule are the Government's plans?

While I accept that this investment in public transport will not solve all the problems in this regard——

One would swear that the Minister was talking about his own money.

——it is certainly very significant. The Government intends to achieve the 5.5% bio-fuels target, which has been set under an EU directive, by the target date of 2010. It is clear that the arrival of more energy-efficient cars on the market is having an effect. Similarly, better quality roads are helping to reduce emissions.

Does the Government have any targets——

I just mentioned the target.

——for energy-related emissions?

To what level does the Government want to reduce such emissions?

We are working under the EU directive.

Energy-related emissions currently comprise 33% of all emissions.

Despite what Deputy Eamon Ryan said — he obviously does not have the full facts — Ireland was the only country to be given an increase on its 1990 base level. Ireland has been allowed to have growth of 13%, whereas most other countries have had to face reductions. Deputy Ryan correctly stated that we are above the allowed figure at present, but it was never stated that we would achieve it within a year. We will achieve the targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol as we move towards 2012. We have signed up to the future development targets that will apply between 2012 and 2020. Ireland has the capacity to do that. I accept that it will involve some pain for various sectors of the economy and for all of us as individuals.

Does the Minister have any targets for the transport sector?

I have said three times that——

What is the Minister's target in relation to transport?

We do not sign international agreements for fun. We sign international agreements with the intention of adhering to the targets set out in them. We will achieve the targets to which we subscribe.

I asked about the target for the transport sector.

Yes, I have set out how we will achieve the targets.

What is the target?

We will achieve them by investing in public transport.

I asked the Minister if he has a target. We know the current level, but we want to know the target level.

We will achieve the 5.75% target on the bio-fuels side, which has been set out under an EU directive and has to be achieved by 2010. The transport figure has grown for many reasons, the most important of which relates to Ireland's thriving economy.

Surely it has increased because we are so car-dependent.

We are not. Despite the increase in the number of cars from 750,000 to 2.2 million, we are actually still under the EU average for car ownership, which is interesting.

Car ownership is different from car usage.

Car usage is as high in many other countries as it is in Ireland.

That is not true.

Approximately 50% of those who use the Luas system have made a modal shift from cars to public transport. We can be confident that the development of the two proposed metro lines and the seven proposed Luas lines or extensions will lead to similar modal shifts.

There was never any doubt about that.

There will be a shift from car use.

That is not in doubt. The problem is capacity.

The tragedy of this complex debate, in which I was involved when I served as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is that it tends to focus on small elements of the system. As a society we need to maintain our quality of life and the success of the economy while striking an environmental balance on the other side of the equation. While those two agendas are often in deep conflict, they can complement each other. We need to find ways of ensuring we achieve the targets to which we have signed up and adhere to our international responsibilities. We can do that. I will not pretend that we should do so by destroying our economy, losing jobs and diminishing the quality of life of the people.

The Minister is being disingenuous again.

The Minister has said we will achieve the targets set out by the EU. The Taoiseach said this morning that we have signed up to those targets.

Is the target to achieve a 20% reduction in our transport emissions on our 1990 levels by 2020?

I said earlier that Ireland is the only country to have been allowed an increase on 1990 levels. I understand that Spain may have been granted an increase as well, although I am not sure. I may have been wrong to say that Ireland is the only country in that position — it may be one of just two such countries. We have been given permission to increase our emissions by 13% because the base figure comes from 1990, when the Irish economy was in a very poor position. We have substantially exceeded the 13% growth that we are allowed, but we are beginning to see decreases in the figures in some areas. We have time to make further reductions so that the targets to which we have signed up can be achieved by 2012, 2020 and beyond. Ireland has always been good at meeting the obligations in the international treaties to which it has signed up, and it will continue to be in such a position.

Although we have already grossly overshot our Kyoto targets, the Minister, in 2007, is continuing to talk about a pilot project. Does he agree that is a testimony to his commitment to addressing climate change and reducing emissions?

To what pilot project does the Deputy refer?

Does he think it is ironic that the pilot project he mentioned is being driven by the German-Irish Chamber of Commerce?

It is an international pilot project.

Can the Minister tell the House what percentage of the total bus fleet — the Dublin Bus fleet and the Bus Éireann fleet — will be involved in the pilot project? When will it commence?

I am glad the Deputy has raised this issue. There is a perception that we can go to the shelf to buy buses with all the modern environmentally friendly facilities needed

How many buses will be involved?

Such buses are not freely available. We will pursue the pilot project in conjunction with our European partners. It is interesting that four prototype buses have been developed by the Wright Group in Northern Ireland. The first of the buses — a hybrid bus — is in use in London. I am not sure where the others are. I congratulate the company, which is based on this island, on that achievement. Dublin Bus has confirmed to me that it will use another of the four buses in Dublin.

The Minister has clarified that just one bus is involved.

I am talking about a hybrid bus from Northern Ireland.

He is talking about just one bus.

Just four such buses are available in Europe. The Deputy should not pretend——

The Minister is deluded.

I am not deluded. Four hybrid buses, which have been developed by the research and development unit of the Wright Group in Belfast, are available. I recently met some members of the group's workforce. One of the buses is being used in London and it is intended that another one of them will be used in Dublin. That is a statement of fact.

Will that help to reduce Ireland's emissions?

There is no point in the Deputy pretending to the people that loads of hybrid buses are available.

People know they are not available.

They are simply not available. That is a statement of fact.

The Minister referred in his reply to the Government's investment in rail. We should take freight off the roads and on to the rail network, but the opposite is happening. Are there are any targets for increasing the amount of freight transported by rail?

There are no such targets.

If not, has the Minister considered offering some money to Iarnród Éireann to encourage it to carry more freight on the railway network?

As I have said on many occasions, rail freight works best over long distances when large loads are carried. We do not have that natural configuration in Ireland because the distances are short. Iarnród Éireann has tried to maximise its operations in areas of growth. I have given some examples of how that is being done, for example in container traffic. A private company, Norfolk Line, worked with Iarnród Éireann to develop a new route from the west to the south east for port-related activities. That route was used but it simply did not work. It is very expensive for the private sector to move goods by truck to a railhead, to have those goods moved by rail, and then to move them by truck again at the other end. We are trying to maximise the opportunities in this area. Like every other Deputy, I would like the rail network to be used for more goods and services. If it is suggested that the Government should ask taxpayers to subsidise highly profitable private sector companies in moving their goods around the country, I can respond by making it clear that we will not do that.

The Minister made that argument already. He is subsidising private sector companies.

Allow the Minister to speak please.

There are many demands on the taxpayer and the Exchequer on behalf of the taxpayer to make investments in health, education, social services, infrastructure and a whole range of other areas.

(Interruptions).

Sorry, Deputy, we must conclude this question.

It is a fundamentally flawed policy.

We must have an orderly Question Time. The Deputy is entitled to ask a question.

We must have honesty from the Minister also. This is the second time today that the Minister has misled the House in respect of the taxpayer subsidising road freight.

We have to move on to the next question. The Deputy will have to find another way of making her point.