Will the Climate Action bill be the Green Party’s “Finest Hour”?

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On a personal level Eamon Ryan, TD., the Green Party leader must be quite pleased with the progress his members are making in terms of the ‘Green’ agenda. Although, it must have irritated him and some of his party colleagues that on the day the Bill was announced, Sinn Fein accused the Greens of not going far enough.  

It seems certain that one of the areas that will be targeted will be Transport. Government figures suggest that the total transport sector is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gases. One would imagine that this is not an impossible target to achieve in terms of reduction, given that the Government has planned to achieve a Carbon Neutral State by 2050. 

Before any work or meaningful progress can be made, the Green Party need to take ownership of this process and show leadership, not demonise the industries they perceive as being the culprits. Being a provider of transport is not a leisure activity. Airlines, truck and bus operators do not ply their services for sport or fun. Last week’s crisis on the Suez Canal should have been an eye-opener for anybody that thinks the world does not need a reliable transport network. Manufacturing and growing products locally may be a solution to reduce pollution, but it is long term and certainly not achievable overnight. When the ‘Ever Given’ Evergreen container vessel went crossways in the Suez Canal it provided a text book example of what happens when a supply chain is disrupted. It is likely that the full effect of that incident will not be seen immediately, like a tsunami, it will be a delayed reaction. Changes to the way we have been doing business to save our planet needs to be planned carefully and strategically, otherwise the cure could be worse than the disease. 

What is important is that we plan long term by making transport sustainable. We hear a lot of talk from the green lobby about railways and public transport infrastructure. These are all long term projects, with long lead in times. Now is the time to plan and also prepare people, the general public, for these changes and the extra cost that may be associated. People are listening and changing their habits. In 2019, there was an increased occupancy of 9% on public transport over 2018. That’s positive, although that level of improvement  may be stalled because of Covid-19 for a while. 

One of the recommendations of the Government has been to increase the take up of electric cars. Great idea, but more effort needs to go into the battery charging infrastructure. One area that is seen as worth while encouraging is carpooling, another good idea but the chronic state of insurance premiums and cover will be an impediment here. Government need to tackle this and stop pussyfooting around the insurance companies.  

Solving the pollution problems of the world is not an issue for the transport sector or any other sector alone, it is everyone’s problem and a cost on everyone. Populist politics and blanket condemnation of sectors may be vote getters and make enthusiasts feel better, but is not the solution. If the Green Party want to get buy-in from the transport industry then it should engage with them. Of course, any Government can legislate any sector into line with their policies and laws, but it would be better all-around if they achieved their objectives as a partnership. So far the industry has done a lot, such as developing environmentally friendly engines, recycling materials used, while and city services move to electric powered buses. Speeding up this process has limiting factors, such as the roll out and the creation of infrastructure and funding. 

For too long there are too many people associated with climate change and reducing pollution, some on the fringes of political parties, others independently and when commenting on transport matters, use analogies that have become clichés. While popular with the general public and often difficult to argue with, they are not always practical. It is not as simple as stop developing road infrastructure in favour of railways and cycle paths.

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