World Environment Day: another reason to highlight the benefits of cycling

Jun 5, 2020, 10:28 AM

Two days after World Bicycle Day, populations are again encouraged to take to their bikes to celebrate World Environment Day (WED).


WED has been celebrated annually on June 5th since 1974, and this year’s theme “biodiversity” and accompanying slogan “time for nature” is in line with the spirit of cycling activities. Be it riding as a means of transport to reduce carbon emissions, or simply enjoying the pleasures of nature on a mountain bike, cycling has its place on World Environment Day.


Each year, this international day aims to engage governments, businesses, celebrities and citizens to focus their efforts on urgent environmental issues and promote progress on the environmental dimensions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


This year’s biodiversity theme draws attention to the need for restoring nature and reversing biodiversity loss. These celebrations will help build momentum and unite the global community in actions for positive change.


One such action is the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030), a global initiative to restore the relationship between humans and nature, piloted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partners. UNEP is also working with world leaders to develop a new and ambitious Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to realise a 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature.


2020 celebrations hosted by Colombia


Every World Environment Day is hosted by a different country, in which official celebrations take place. This year's host is Colombia (in partnership with Germany) which on 5 June will deliver a wide-ranging series of events featuring experts on biodiversity issues from across the globe. These can be accessed here


Colombia has made headlines in recent weeks due to actions taken by its cities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cycling has been promoted as a safe and low-cost option to respect physical distancing when travelling, with initiatives including  the rapid creation of 76km of temporary bike lanes on main streets (in addition to the permanent network of 550 km) and bike sharing schemes for health care workers in Bogota.


In addition, according to the World Resources Institute, Colombia also recently released a new national road map for urban and regional mobility, also focused on sustainable mobility options with the promotion of cycling and walking.


Biodiversity and sport


The link between biodiversity and sport has increasingly been highlighted in initiatives taken by the sporting community, as many events depend on a healthy natural environment and have a responsibility to protect it.


To support such measures, a new guide was published on Earth Day by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “Mitigating biodiversity impacts of sports events” offers advice to sports event organisers on how to proactively and diligently reduce the impact on biodiversity and promote its conservation throughout all phases of event planning.


The guide also features several examples related to cycling events, which include:


-Actions taken by the London 2012 Olympic Games organisers to reduce the impact on biodiversity along the race route during the road cycling events, in particular due to large numbers of spectators in sensitive areas;

-The sound environmental management plan developed by the Absa Cape Epic - the largest full-service off-road mountain bike stage race in the world – which includes parameters such as disturbance levels, damage to vegetation and control of waste, all of which relate to biodiversity conservation;

-The collaboration between Absa, sponsor of the Cape Epic cycle tour in South Africa, and the Cape Leopard Trust;

-The partnership, launched in 2018, between the Tour of Britain and the charity I Dig Trees to plant saplings on behalf of the winners of every stage of the race, in order to offset carbon emissions associated with the event and improve green spaces for public recreation and access to biodiversity;

-Reduction of the impact of transport and on-site traffic on biodiversity at sports events by encouraging the use of active mobility, with pedestrian routes and bicycles.


UNEP and cycling promotion


While the theme of WED 2020 is focused on biodiversity, UNEP also plays a key global role in the promotion of cycling: in particular, their Share the Road Programme helps governments and stakeholders in developing countries to move away from prioritizing the car-driving minority and towards investing in infrastructure for the majority: those who walk and cycle. These actions ensure that policy and transport infrastructure investments answer the needs of millions of people around the world who use a bicycle as their primary means of transportation.


In 2017, UNEP also collaborated with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to produce a joint report entitled “Riding towards green economy: Cycling and green jobs” which, among numerous recommendations, noted that 435,000 cycling-related jobs could be created if 56 major cities across the pan-European region were to replicate Copenhagen’s share of cycling as a mode of transport.


While World Bicycle Day on 3 June was a celebration of this instrument of zero emissions mobility and connectivity (see UNEP video), we encourage you all to ride #ForNature for World Environment Day on 5 June!