Car emissions targets ‘unrealistic and doomed to fail’

Motor dealer group calls for revised strategy that’s scientific, data-driven and pragmatic

Targets set out in the Government’s climate action plan (CAP) for the reduction of Ireland’s car emissions are “unrealistic and doomed to fail”, according to the latest analysis of the Irish Car Carbon Reduction Alliance (ICCRA).

ICCRA, which represents the majority of car dealers and brands in the Republic, says the plan “is flawed as it is based on inaccurate and incomplete information”.

It calls for a revised strategy that is scientific, data-driven and pragmatic so real and lasting reductions can be made through adoption of EVs but also increased carbon efficiency of vehicles. Under the plan, sales of new petrol and diesel cars are to be banned from 2030 with a target of almost one million EVs on Irish roads by the end of the decade.

ICCRA, however, points out it fails to tackle underlying reasons behind the country’s high level of car emissions and until it does, “it will continue to fail to achieve its targets”.


It is calling for more realistic, yet ambitious targets for emissions and EVs, as well as urgent consultation with the motoring sector. "There are only two ways to reduce emissions from transport in Ireland – reduce the number of journeys by car and/or drive more fuel-efficient cars," said ICCRA spokesman Denis Murphy.

Economics and the latest engineering must inform climate action policy to ensure success, he said, “yet the current CAP ignores both. There is a sense of déjà vu about the targets. In 2008, the then government set a target of having 250,000 EVs on the road by 2020. Currently there are 8,124”.

He added: “It’s very easy to set targets but very difficult to achieve them without clearly-defined strategy. We wish to support the Government’s targets in the development of such a strategy.”

They recognised urgent action was required across all sectors of the economy, including the motor sector, “so everyone plays their part in protecting our planet”, he underlined.

While Ireland's car ownership per head of population was one of the lowest in Europe, it had one of the highest carbon emissions per car in Europe due to its rural transport infrastructure, which is responsible for an average annual mileage 1.5 times the EU average.

“Reducing emissions to CAP targets would require a sweeping reduction in car journeys made, especially in rural Ireland where, understandably, motorists drive more than their urban counterparts. But the public transport infrastructure isn’t there to support such drastic changes,” he said.

While better public transport may happen over time and would be very welcome, it would be far too late to meet current emission targets, Mr Murphy noted.

For the plan to have an immediate and lasting impact it must encourage motorists to drive more fuel-efficient cars, ICCRA notes, including comprehensive reform of the vehicle registration tax system.

Consumer confusion over engine choices and EVs along with the relatively high cost of EV are major challenges, but the ICCRA says with decisive Government support these can be resolved quickly, leading to significantly lower emissions.

ICCRA research shows over 53 per cent of the public are confused about the various car options on the market and their impact on the environment.

Continuing decline in new car registrations, detected before the Coronavirus pandemic, “is a direct result of this confusion, as motorists are sticking with their current older car, which has higher carbon emissions, instead of switching to a newer model”.

The CAP is feeding this confusion, it claims. It proposes a ban on the sale of fossil-fuelled (internal combustion engine ICE) cars from 2030 “and motorists, understandably, are concerned about the potential resale value of their car”.

“The ban is premature. The truth is that driving a newer car is a more meaningful way to reduce car emissions, by removing the older car stock that have significantly higher emissions,” Mr Murphy said. “Current technological innovations could bring ICE engine cars close to zero emissions by 2030, allowing consumers a more realistic timeframe and cost basis to transfer over to EVs while also achieving climate emission targets.”

The CAP’s targets for the supply and take-up of battery electric vehicles (BEVS) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) between 2021 and 2030 are unrealistic, ICCRA concludes. “The CAP’s ambitious targets are based on 840,000 EVs being on Irish roads by 2030, just 10 years away. Currently there are 8,124 BEVS, about 1 per cent of the target.”

“The supply and pricing of BEVs and PHEVs in the Irish market are critical to consumer take-up even to reach 50 per cent of the CAPs targets, yet there is no reference to this, it adds EU policy states that cars must achieve a 30 per cent reduction emission levels by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

This is significant, it points out, as car manufacturers in Europe are working to achieve the EU target, not those set out in the CAP and this will directly impact the supply of sufficient EVs for the Irish market.

Furthermore is the cost factor; the average cost of an EV is €45,852 before subsidies whereas the average price of a new petrol car bought in Ireland in 2019 was €23,523 and a diesel car was €37,421. “This significant price gap is not included in total cost of ownership calculations in the CAP, which is a serious omission as it detrimentally affects purchasing decisions,” ICCRA adds.

Mr Murphy said ICCRA supports the Government’s commitment to address climate change and notes the EU requirement that “a socially acceptable and just transition towards zero-emission mobility should be ensured”.

Targets can be ambitious but have to be realistic and supported by a comprehensive strategy to be achievable, he added. The new government needed to be mindful of this when developing any future plans or legislation, “if we are to succeed as a country in significantly reducing our transport emissions”.

ICCRA was set up by people within the motoring sector who were astonished by the CAP’s lack of realism, he said. While everybody wanted EVs and zero-emissions forms of transport, and a cheap solution would eventually emerge, in the interim there was a need for low-emission ICEs and use of blended fuels.

“You hear a lot about banning diesel cars between the canals [ IN DUBLIN ], we should be banning the emissions,” Mr Murphy said. The reality was diesel cars with zero Nox emissions were now available, while the “blended solution” could reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent by 2025.

The point at which EVs would reach price parity with petrol and diesel cars was all to do with mass production, he said. As factories changed, and they themselves used renewables, costs would come down. Volkswagen would produce 10 million vehicles next year but only 300,000 would be fully EV. “We have a long way to go,” he believed.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times