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World Leaders Shouldn't Underestimate the Climate-Saving Potential of Bicycles

Writing in The Guardian's Bike Blog, Peter Walker has an important message for the 40,000 delegates from 195 nations gathered in Paris for the COP21 talks: Don't discount the carbon-reducing, planet-saving potential of the bicycle.
December 4, 2015, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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As the delegates at COP21 begin work on a new world climate treaty to keep temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, "it’s time to consider what role the humble bike can play in combating global warming," writes Peter Walker in The Guardian's bike blog.

One of the most exhaustive studies was carried out by the European Cycling Federation (ECF) in 2011. [See two earlier Planetizen posts on the study in 'related' below.] This began by trying to compare the average emissions for bikes and e-bikes with other forms of transport, calculating both the environmental cost of manufacture and of use, which for ordinary bikes included extra calories consumed.

The findings showed that "if all the EU’s nations achieved Danish levels of cycling this alone would account for between 5% and 11% of the emissions reductions needed to reach the EU’s official 2020 emissions targets," writes Walker.

similar study came out last week, from the New York-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the University of California, Davis. This found that even e-bikes can often prove more energy efficient per passenger-kilometre than many rail systems.

It concluded that a not-too-outrageous upshift in global cycling use – from a current 6% or so of all urban passenger miles to 11% in 2030 and 14% in 2050 – would cut overall emissions by 7% (in 2030) and then 11% (in 2050).

Writing for a British paper, Walker takes aim at his Britain's low funding of bicycling investments per compita compared to Dutch cycling investments and to British road investments. But he doesn't stop there.

Walker also takes aim at electric motor vehicles (EVs), particularly timely in light of the December 3 announcement by the California Environmental Protection Agency of a new goal of "13 North American and European governments to make all new passenger vehicles sold in their jurisdictions zero-emission by 2050." The announcement was also published by The International Council on Clean Transportation.

It’s worth noting that even if everyone suddenly switched to electric cars overnight – unlikely, given they currently make up just over 20,000 of the 2.2m UK new car sales a year – the emissions involved in making them, and their extra weight, would still make them greatly less efficient than bikes.

Walker's concludes that "(i)t’s one of the curious paradoxes of bikes in the modern world, that this largely low-tech device that is so beautifully suited as a solution to the very modern problem of global warming" receives such little attention.

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Published on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 in The Guardian
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