Climate considerations have been placed at the heart of Government’s policy-making and decision-making processes. The Climate Action Plan clearly recognises that Ireland must significantly step up its commitments to tackle climate disruption. The transport sector, which accounts for a fifth of Ireland's greenhouse emissions annually and which has a heavy reliance on fossil fuel usage, has an important role to play in this national decarbonisation effort.
The movement of goods by road is the second biggest source of transport emissions after private car use. According to the most recent emissions inventory, heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) alone contributed over 18% of Ireland's total land transport emissions in 2017. Clearly, emissions from the freight sector are difficult to address – HDVs account for only around 5% of vehicles on EU roads but they are responsible for some 25% of all EU road transport emissions. Without significant policy action, their emissions trajectory is projected to continue to rise by almost a fifth between 2010 and 2050. This trajectory may be even steeper in Ireland where there has been a steady annual increase in road freight activity levels and the number of additional new goods vehicles being licensed in recent years. Accordingly, developing measures to help address emissions from this sector is critical.
The quickest way to avoid freight emissions is to streamline operations and ensure that vehicle loads and journey routes are optimised. Freight companies are adept at optimising logistical operations and these practices should be encouraged to continue. In tandem, using the most efficient and lowest emitting vehicles is also essential in limiting freight emissions. For this reason, Ireland was very supportive of the introduction of new EU Regulations that set maximum fleet emission averages for new HDVs. New vehicles must emit 15% and 30% less CO2 by 2025 and 2030 respectively relative to average emissions over the period July 2019 to June 2020. Similar legislation has proved to be a very effective approach in other jurisdictions (e.g. Japan, the USA and Canada) and has already been demonstrated to deliver marked emission reductions with cars/vans in Europe.
As well as making the vehicles more efficient, lower emitting fuels must be employed. Although the Euro VI standard for HDVs represents a considerable improvement over older and more polluting Euro standards, for climate and air quality reasons Ireland must begin to move beyond the use of fossil fuels. A range of new alternative fuel solutions are emerging across the fleet spectrum. The Low Emission Vehicle Taskforce recently concluded its deliberations on the potential role of alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas (CNG) as a pathway to biomethane, biofuels, and hydrogen in the freight sector. The Taskforce has made recommendations to help accelerate the uptake of alternative fuels and technologies, which are being presented to the Government. This is especially important as new vehicles entering the fleet over the coming years will likely remain in the fleet for most or all of the coming decade.
At present there are a number of incentives in place to encourage the uptake of lower emitting alternatives, namely:
- a low excise rate for natural gas and biogas for a period of eight years;
- an accelerated capital allowance scheme for gas-propelled vehicles and related equipment; and
- support for the roll-out of refuelling infrastructure for alternative fuels and technologies.
In addition, my Department is supporting a range of research into decarbonising the freight sector. Two freight projects are also approved for funding under the Climate Action Fund.
We are focusing our finite resources on supporting the uptake of new lower emitting alternatives. Furthermore, more energy, fuel and emissions efficient fossil fueled vehicles should have no purchase price premium and lower running costs for operators and, accordingly, should need no incentive from Government to support uptake. Accordingly, I have no immediate plans to introduce a grant or capital allowance scheme to assist road haulage companies to buy new diesel vehicles.