Earth Day takeaway: How cycling can help alleviate climate change

Earth Day

With Earth Day being marked worldwide this 22nd April, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) again highlights the vital role of the bicycle in global climate action.

Facts that give food for thought

  • Using a bike instead of a car for short trips reduces travel emissions by around 75%: Our World In Data

  • Swapping the car in cities for cycling just one day a week can reduce someone's carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO2 over a year: Imperial College London

  • Each 7 kilometres travelled by bicycle will avoid 1 kilogram of CO2 emissions compared to the same distance covered by car: UNEP

  • Electric cargo bikes cut carbon emissions by 90% compared with diesel vans: wearepossible

  • A bicycle is cheaper to buy and maintain than a car, which also makes it more equitable: UNEP

Working Group III: United Nations report on tackling climate change

On Earth Day we give the voice to the authors of a report, issued earlier this month, outlining solutions for tackling climate change: the Sixth Assessment Report (known as Working Group III or WG3) was issued by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report underlines the need to transform the transport sector, make cycling an easier and safer option and consequently change transport choices of populations worldwide.

With emissions continuing to rise and put our earth and well-being at even greater risk, stronger climate action is required this decade to limit global warming. However, the policies needed to achieve net-zero are not yet in place and rely heavily on technological solutions that are still to be proven feasible at scale.

Meeting climate goals will require transformative changes in the transport sector, with the bicycle a driver for making rapid and deep emissions reductions possible. In 2019, direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transport sector accounted for 23% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, with 70% of direct transport emissions coming from road vehicles. Case studies suggest that active mobility like walking and cycling could reduce emissions from urban transport by up to 10%.

Motivation to get on the bike

The IPCC comprises hundreds of the world's top climate scientists who, for the first time, explored what motivates people to cut emissions. If the right conditions allow people to choose to ride a bicycle, more could take climate action to reduce emissions. Investments in bike and pedestrian pathways in urban areas can encourage more people to choose less GHG-intensive modes of transport like cycling. Among 60 actions that could change individual consumption patterns, individualmobility choices have the largest potential to reduce carbon footprints.

Excellent bicycle infrastructure makes it safer and easier for people to use their bikes to get around. The WG3 report also highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic has led to behavioural change and a consequent reduction of transport-related GHG emissions through the promotion of local active transport like cycling.

WG3 notably states that addressing inequality and focusing on people's well-being supports climate change efforts. Converting transport to more every-day cycling has many co-benefits for our societies, including equitable access to transportation services, air quality improvements, health benefits, reduced congestion, and reduced demand for the planet's finite materials. A system shift to bike and e-bike transport is directly connected to 11 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As the world governing body for cycling, the UCI recognises that our sport is a platform to reach many people worldwide and inspire them to choose more sustainable behaviours. All of us can help save our planet by engaging more people to use bikes as part of their everyday lives.

The UCI is also committed to empowering its National Federations to promote and support advocacy activities in their countries and to ensuring events do more to raise the profile of the bicycle as a catalyst for climate action.

In addition, the UCI Bike City Label is creating a network of cities and regions that are building a better world through sport and providing examples of how to create safer streets for all.

We will continue working with other groups and organisations to advocate and speak with one voice, to place cycling at the heart of sustainable societies.

On Earth Day, the UCI acknowledges that our sport also needs to reduce its emissions. In the coming months, the UCI will launch key programmes to educate and support our stakeholders on how to minimise the sport's environmental impacts. We are committed to collaborating with the cycling family to share knowledge and identify solutions to help us achieve global climate goals.

UCI President David Lappartient said: "The scientific evidence is clear: the time for action is now. The bicycle can help us halve emissions by 2030 to limit global warming. All of us can take climate action by riding our bikes, and the UCI calls on the cycling family worldwide to share this message with friends, family, colleagues, fans, and politicians."

Jill Warren, CEO of the European Cyclists’ Federation, added: “There is no conceivable way to achieve the CO2 emission cuts needed by 2030 without significantly more cycling in as many cities and countries as possible. Investing in safe cycling infrastructure and in enabling citizens to make more of their daily trips by bicycle is, as the latest IPCC report attests, one of the best things governments can do to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis.”