EU must take cycling seriously to reduce emissions

פורסם: 14 בדצמ׳ 2011, 11:27 על ידי: Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 17 בדצמ׳ 2011, 11:24 ]
 13 December 2011

If all citizens were to cycle as much as Danes do - an average of 2.6 kilometres a day - it would help the EU meet its emission reductions target, claims the European Cyclists' Federation

The transport sector is by far the most reliant on fossils fuels. It is clearly a thorn in the side of policy-makers. While all other sectors managed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent over the last 20 years, the transport sector was unable to keep pace. Transport emissions actually increased by 36 per cent. If we are serious about meeting emissions reduction targets, we need change. The European Union wants the transport sector to slash its emissions by 60 per cent compared to 1990 levels. Under current policies, the outlook looks bleak. Overall EU transport emissions look set to increase 74 per cent by 2050 and this figure includes the continued decrease in tailpipe emissions.

A recent report from the European Environmental Agency put it bluntly: "Technical options alone cannot achieve the European Commission's target of a 60 per cent reduction in GHGs from transport by 2050." Technology alone, in other words, will not save the day. For a seemingly obvious solution, cycling is often overlooked by member states yearning for low-carbon solutions. Often deemed too simple, or relegated to the status of "children's toys", the green potential of the bicycle has yet to be unleashed. And this is why European Cyclists' Federation produced a recent study, which quantified the carbon dioxide savings of cycling. It found that If EU citizens were to cycle as much as the Danes did in 2000 - an average of 2.6 kilometres a day - it would help the union meet more than 25 per cent of the targeted emission reductions for the transport sector.

But are bicycles really emission free? It is very tempting to present the bicycle as a zero-emission mode of transport - but production of the bicycle, its maintenance and even the additional food the cyclist needs have to be taken into careful consideration when comparing modes of transport. Doing just that revealed that emissions from the bicycle are indeed very low, to say the least. In fact, they are more than 10 times lower than those stemming from the passenger car. So for each km cycled instead of driven, emissions are cut by a factor of at least 10 - which in the world of transport is enormous.

Decarbonisation Graph

But who else is going to cycle as much as the Danes? We found it more convincing to have a look at cycling levels that are achieved today in some countries. That is why we chose Denmark. Yes, it is true that the Danes do cycle a lot. They cycled an annual average of 581 miles per person. The EU average is just under 120 miles per person per year; while in the United Kingdom it is a mere 46 miles; less than 8 per cent of that in Denmark. However, if we look at the distance travelled by the Danes on a daily basis - it works out to be only 1.6 miles a day. This is a realistic figure to achieve and people will cycle if governments provide adequate infrastructure. If the EU is serious about meeting its overall and transport emissions reduction targets, we are going to need a modal shift and not just new technology. In this regard, cycling represents a splendid cost-effective opportunity. No, it is not about moving less. It is about the way we move and the transport choices that governments make available.

The key findings of our recent study found that emissions from cycling are more than 10 times lower than those stemming from the passenger car, even taking into account the additional dietary intake of a cyclist compared with that of a motorised transport user. And E-bikes, despite their electric assistance, have emissions in the same range as ordinary bicycles. Considering E-bikes allows for 56 per cent longer daily commutes and substitutes the car for 39 per cent of trips, they have a huge potential to further reduce transport emissions.

Meanwhile, bicycle-share schemes also have the potential to reduce further emissions - considering it is a substitute for motorised transport for 50-75 per cent of the users. If levels of cycling in the EU-27 were equivalent to those found in Denmark in 2000, bicycle use would achieve 26 per cent of the 2050 GHG target set for the transport sector. With EU crude oil imports at 955 million barrels per year, citizens cycling at Danish levels would reduce European oil importations by close to 10 per cent. Finally, the EU's objectives will not be met via technology and will require ambitious plans - which foresee a Europe-wide modal shift away from individual motorised transport. A combination of improvement measures - more efficient use of vehicles, lower carbon-intense fuels, more efficient use of the transport system - will only deliver a 20 per cent decrease by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

Benoit Blondel is health and environment policy officer at the European Cyclists' Federation
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