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Decarbonising Northern Ireland’s road transport

Electric vehicle at public charging point

How can Northern Ireland contribute to the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050? That’s the goal that the UK has set—and everyone knows that this cannot be achieved without a fundamental change in how both people and goods are transported.

Northern Ireland’s contribution to this ambitious goal will need to be in the realm of an 82% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. For us to achieve this target, it is clear that transport—which accounts for almost 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 (the latest year for which figures are available)—will need to change. Cars are thought to be the main source of road transport greenhouse gas emitters—and, as part of that, the way cars are fuelled will need to change significantly.

What measures can we take to help achieve these goals? Of course, we can reduce our dependence on the car: we can walk more, cycle and take public transport for more of our journeys. The most obvious way we can contribute to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is to adopt cars that use low carbon technologies and have tailpipe emissions of less than 75g of CO2 per kilometre. In other words, ultra low emission vehicles—either pure electric or plug-in hybrid electric cars.

So far, we are buying more pure electric and plug-in hybrid cars—but they only account for 0.5% of licensed vehicles in the UK, with sales of new petrol cars increasing at a much higher rate. 

Cars registered for the frst time by fuel type, UK 2015 to 2019

For Northern Ireland, the percentage of new ultra low electric vehicles registered per year is growing but is still at a very low level, as can be seen in the following chart.

Share of cars registered for the first time that are ULEX, NOrthern Irteland 2015 to 2019

For us to transform into a net zero carbon emission society, the take up of electric cars will need to increase substantially.


Why are we not adopting this new technology at a higher rate? What is holding us back? We know what some of these issues are. The price of electric cars, anxiety about how far they can go before needing to be recharged, the lack of charging infrastructure and the restricted range of electric cars compared with cars using fossil fuel—all of these can slow the change-over. 


Have these issues prevented you from either purchasing an electric vehicle or contemplating such a purchase? If you have made the switch, what were the factors that encouraged you to do so? Were you put off by the lack of public charging points? Or, are you waiting until there is more vehicle choice? Are you aware of the Government incentive grants to help you purchase an ultra-low emission vehicle?


These are some of the questions that the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Infrastructure Committee is seeking to answer in its Decarbonisation Inquiry. As part of this Inquiry, the Committee has prepared a survey to find out how people feel about ultra low emission vehicles—both pure electric and plug-in hybrids, what the barriers are to changing from petrol or diesel, and what our government can do to make such a change more attractive. 


You can take part in the Committee’s survey and find out more about the Committee’s Inquiry by following this link.

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