Bicycle Activist Groups Tell COP26 That Boosting Cycling Reduces Carbon Emissions

The world needs much more cycling if we are to combat climate change.

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Sixty-four bicycle activist organizations led by the European Cycling Federation (ECF) filed a letter with the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) stating that "world leaders must commit to boosting cycling levels to reduce carbon emissions and reach global climate goals quickly and effectively."

The letter reads:

"We, the undersigned 64 organisations, strongly appeal to all governments and leaders attending the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow to commit to significantly increasing the number of people who cycle in their countries. Governments can do this by building more high-quality cycling infrastructure, integrating cycling with public transport, improving road safety and implementing policies that encourage people and businesses to replace automobile trips with bicycle trips and other modes like walking and public transport. Promoting and enabling active mobility must be a cornerstone of global, national and local strategies to meet net-zero carbon targets."
cycling has far reaching positive impacts


This is something we have been saying on Treehugger for some time, noting that bikes aren't just transportation, they are climate action. I wrote in a 2018 post: "If a fraction of the attention and money was devoted to them instead of electric and autonomous cars, they could make a real dent in the carbon footprint of transportation."

“There is no conceivable way for governments to reduce CO₂ emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst of the climate crisis without significantly more cycling," said Jim Warren, CEO of the ECF, in the press release announcing the letter. "The devastating effects of accelerating global warming should be clear to everyone, and boosting cycling levels is the best way to quickly cut carbon emissions from transport on a massive scale."

we need more cycling quickly


Henk Swarttouw, President of the ECF, wrote a letter to the Financial Times, laying out the case for bikes, noting it is faster and cheaper than just about any other change. He also complains about the focus on electric cars and charging stations:

"However, even in the best-case scenario, it will take at least 20 years to phase out the current fleet of internal combustion engine cars and even longer for trucks and lorries — not to mention the rollout of the charging infrastructure. Global car sales keep rising and less than 5 percent of cars being sold today are electrified. There is a quick and relatively simple way to kickstart the reduction of our transport emissions. In Europe, half of all car trips are shorter than 5km. One-third are shorter than 3km. Most people will be able to cover these distances by bicycle or, for the shortest distances, simply on foot. And recently, the rapid advent of the electric bicycle increasingly makes cycling an attractive option for distances of a bit longer. Each kilometre travelled by bicycle instead of by car immediately saves on average 150 grammes of CO2 emissions."
Vehicle trips by distance

Federal Highway Administration

In the U.S., the distances are a bit longer. The Federal Highway Association National Household Travel Survey found 45.6% of trips were under three miles (5 kilometers), an easy bike ride, and 59.5% under six miles, perhaps a schlep for a bike but a breeze on an e-bike. A ridiculous 21.4% of driving trips are under a mile. This is why we have written that bikes and e-bikes are the fastest ride to zero carbon, asking who needs a car for that? There is no reason that a lot of these couldn't be done on a bike– if there were a safe place to ride.

That's why Swarttouw continues: "However, the biggest factor keeping people from cycling and walking is concern about road safety. That’s why our governments need to provide safe and efficient infrastructure for cycling to achieve a quick win."

cycling to zero carbon future


The 64 cycling organizations have a list of suggestions to boost cycling levels in their letter to COP26:

  • Promoting cycling in all its forms, including cycling tourism, sports cycling, bike sharing, riding to work or school and for exercising
  • Recognising cycling as a climate solution, establishing a clear link between how an increase in bicycle trips and a decrease in private car trips reduce CO₂ emissions
  • Creating and financing national cycling strategies and collecting data on cycling to know where improvements in infrastructure and usage can be made
  • Focusing investments on building safe and high-quality cycling infrastructure and in incentives for communities historically marginalised from cycling
  • Providing direct incentives for people and businesses to switch from automobiles to bicycles for more of their daily trips
  • Building synergies with public transport and foster combined mobility solutions for a multimodal ecosystem capable of covering all user needs without relying on a private car
  • Collectively commit to achieving a global target of higher cycling levels. More cycling in a handful of countries will not be enough to reduce global CO₂ emissions. All countries must contribute, and these efforts must be tracked at the UN level.

The signatories conclude: "There is no conceivable way or governments to reduce CO₂ emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst of the climate crisis without significantly more cycling. Cycling is one of the best solutions we already have to ensure our planet is habitable for all generations to come."

Treehugger has long complained the electric cars are sucking all the air out of the room, and that we need more focus on bikes, which can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically reduce emissions from transportation.

stress the urgency of cycling


Whenever I write about this, I get complaints and comments like this: "Some bicycle/e-bike advocates make the 'perfect' the enemy of the good. It would be nice if everyone could super-lightweight their ride right away but not everybody works in an office nearby with ample shopping also nearby. It requires work to make a car-optional society."

Yes, it does require work. Dealing with climate change requires a lot of work. Not everyone has to ride and electric cars are part of the answer. But as the signatories to the letter note, we have run out of time and can't wait decades, whereas we can promote bikes right now.

"Our world is on fire. We must urgently leverage the solutions that cycling offers by radically scaling up its use," reads the ECF open letter. "What we need now is for governments to politically and financially commit to more, safer and integrated cycling that is equitable for everyone living in our countries, cities and regions."

View Article Sources
  1. "Popular Vehicle Trips Statistics." The Federal Highway Association.