Decarbonisation priorities in policy and funding in Scotland and Ireland

A report for the Scottish Government backs its commitment to reduce car use, while Ireland unveils its biggest ever transport investment package as part of its decarbonisation agenda.

In the ongoing debates about decarbonising transport, the bus sector has been emphasising the need for modal shift away from car travel to be a priority as well as the electrification of the bus fleet. A recent report commissioned by the Scottish Government echoes that sentiment with a backing for the policy to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 in Scotland.

The new report from low carbon consultancy Element Energy on decarbonising the transport sector, offers an independent assessment of the policy outcomes that are required in order for the transport sector to make the transition to net zero.

The report is clear that alongside the need for technological innovation, there is a requirement for change in individual and business behaviour and travel choices. 

Commenting on the report, transport minister Graeme Dey told the Scottish Parliament: “The Programme for Government sets out how we will take Scotland on a green transport revolution and in a way delivers a fairer and healthier Scotland. The report we have commissioned from Element Energy sets out what that future could look like, and what policy outcomes are required to support that vision.

“Technology offers us many solutions, and we’re making good progress, but the report is clear that transformational change in travel behaviour is required. The role of government, therefore, is to make sustainable travel choices easier, and our Programme for Government commitments support just that.”

The limits of the powers of the Scottish Government were also highlighted by Dey who pointed to the need for the UK Government to deliver in key areas: “We are aware that we need to disincentivise car use to encourage people to make more sustainable choices. But the most direct levers here – fuel duty and vehicle excise duty – are reserved. So the UK Government must play its part and use all the levers and powers it has to support us in this endeavour.

“Scotland has made a world-leading commitment to reduce car kilometres travelled nationally by 20 per cent by 2030. We’re supporting this through free bus travel for under 22’s, over half a billion pounds in bus priority infrastructure and a near tripling of the active travel budget to 10 per cent of what we spend on transport by the end of this parliament. 

“With COP26 just over a month away, this report makes clear the scale of the challenge ahead of us.  We are committed to cutting emissions in transport at an unprecedented pace, and transforming how we all get around in the future.”

MEANWHILE, the Irish government has put some meat behind its transport decarbonisation policy ambitions with a €35billion investment package to support its updated National Development Plan, including €11.6 billion for new public transport infrastructure.

The plan is being hailed as the largest investment in transport since the formation of the Irish state and aims to transform how people travel and halve the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

There are significant bus projects in the plan including expansion of the BusConnects network concept in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, while €350million will go towards renewing and expanding rural and regional bus fleets. Support for urban buses to switch to electric will be part of a €3.8billion fund allocated over ten years to public transport protection and renewal.

Transport minister Eamon Ryan says: “This is a National Development Plan for a cleaner, greener, connected Ireland, a plan that supports communities and our climate goal – to cut emissions in half by 2030. We’re making the biggest investment in transport in the history of the state – 35 billion over the decade – which will transform how we travel.

“This revised Plan re-orientates our investment toward greener, cleaner and more accessible transport. It means that for every euro we invest in new road infrastructure we’re investing twice as much in new public transport.

“This record investment will deliver a transport system which improves our quality of life and provides us with greater choices to travel more efficiently and sustainably – be it by footpath, cycleway, road or rail, keeping us connected to our families, our workplaces and our communities. This will be a decade of change.”