Reliance on EVs to meet climate targets is a “potentially costly gamble”

Published by Kayle Crosson on

23 February 2021 

Relying on electric vehicles to meet newly ramped up emissions reductions is a “risky and potentially costly gamble”, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action heard today. 

Tadhg O’Mahony of the Finland Futures Research Centre relayed his opinion to the Committee who met today to discuss transport’s role in reducing emissions by 51 per cent by 2030. 

The target was enshrined in the Programme for Government, which aims to have Ireland reducing its emissions by 7 per cent each year up until the end of the decade. 

Dr. O’Mahony told the Committee that while the 2019 Climate Action Plan goal of having almost one million electric vehicles on Irish roads, it would be “difficult to achieve”. 

The target would depend on the supply of minerals to make the batteries to be constantly available worldwide, which is not guaranteed, according to his testimony. 

Relying solely on electric vehicles to drive down transport emissions would also “deepen many of the sustainability challenges associated with our transport system,” he said. 

These would include high levels of traffic congestion, damage to economic competitiveness, road traffic accidents, and the negative impacts of ongoing particulate matter pollution on public health, as according to Dr. O’Mahony, electric vehicles cannot deal with the harmful pollutant completely. 

Andrew Murphy of Transport and Environment echoed Dr. O’Mahony’s assertion, saying a one-for-one switch from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles would be “a missed opportunity”. 

“It would undermine the effectiveness of public transport investments, place continued financial pressure on families and would make us further out of step with our European counterparts,” Mr. Murphy told the Committee. 

To date, transport accounts for roughly a quarter of Irish emissions, making the State the fourth highest transport emitter per capita in Europe. 

Last year 7.4 per cent of new vehicles sold in Ireland were electric, drastically behind Norway, the global leader in the sale of electric vehicles. 

Meeting the target for electric vehicles in the 2019 Climate Action Plan would require Ireland to rise to Norway’s diffusion rate, where almost three-quarters of all new vehicle purchases were electric. 

Avoid, shift, improve 

In order to produce deep emissions reduction sustainably, Dr. O’Mahony recommended following the avoid, shift and improve approach, which has been endorsed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

The quantity and length of trips should be avoided under this framework through the prevention of low density development and the creation of affordable, high-quality housing in well-serviced communities. 

The “shift” aspect involves facilitating journeys away from cars and towards walking, cycling and public transport. 

The final “improve” tenet would result in smaller vehicles, better engines and moving to alternatives such as electric vehicles. 

Under this scheme, “we absolutely still pursue EVs, but we don’t prioritise them,” Dr. Mahony said. 

Avoid and shift stages should be prioritised for 2030, and the final improve stage should be geared towards 2050, he added. 

Relying on EVs would also lead to potentially retiring cars before their usual end of life and providing state assistance in doing so, which is a “direct transfer of wealth from the state to usually wealthier people and leaves out people on minimum wage,” according to Dr. Mahony.

“To give a mobility system that serves all is another reason from a Just Transition and equity perspective to prioritise avoid and shift, and not just improve EVs,” he said. 

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