Transitioning away from fossil fuels to more renewable, sustainable energy sources is at the heart of the Climate Action Plan.
Currently 40% of homes use coal and peat for heating (many in combination with other fossil fuel heating systems). By 2030, we will upgrade a third of all homes to at least a B2 energy standard, installing approximately 400,000 heat pumps. Currently over 99% of our vehicle fleet is powered by fossil fuels. By 2030, nearly a million electric vehicles (35%-40%) will be on our roads. These measures will significantly improve air quality by reducing emissions of harmful pollutants.
Extending the ban on the use of smoky coal would also have a positive impact on air quality, particularly in built up areas.
The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal, or ‘the smoky coal ban’ as it is commonly known, was first introduced in Dublin in 1990, and subsequently extended to our major cities.
Following a public consultation process, it was further extended in 2012, and now applies in 26 urban areas nationwide. The ban has proved very effective in reducing particulate matter and sulphur dioxide levels in the air and has had the effect of significantly improving public health. Research indicates, for example, that the ban has resulted in over 350 fewer annual deaths in Dublin alone.
Regarding the proposed national extension of the smoky coal ban, a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the proposal of two former Ministers to expand the smoky coal ban.
This is particularly disappointing, given the impact poor air quality can have on human health and the environment and the emphasis the Government is putting on transitioning to a low carbon society.
The basis of their challenge is that a nationwide smoky coal ban cannot be introduced without a nationwide ban on the burning of peat, turf and wet wood because these products produce similar levels of pollution. The legal threat is not only to take down any new nationwide ban, but to remove the existing ban which is currently in place in cities and many towns around the country.
In that context, it is particularly important to ensure that the measures put forward are not vulnerable to legal challenge, and I am continuing to work to finalise a legally robust way forward which will improve air quality by reducing air pollution, without jeopardising the existing ban.
I also intend to publish a Clean Air Strategy, which will set out a number of policies to improve air quality nationwide in the coming months.
My Department is also funding the Environmental Protection Agency’s roll-out of the Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP), which will greatly improve the data available on air pollution in Ireland, facilitating the design and targeting of appropriate policy measures to tackle it.