World Environment Day - Cycling to beat air pollution

Jun 4, 2019, 09:49 AM

Nine out of 10 people breathe dirty air; responsible for over seven million premature deaths a year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The theme of this year’s UN (United Nations) World Environment Day on June 5 will be to #BeatAirPollution. Cycling will be high on the agenda as one solution to help combat this environmental and public health emergency. Changing how we move people and goods towards non-polluting modes of transport is essential if we wish to breathe easier and stay healthier.

The transport sector’s reliance on fossil fuels - particularly diesel - remains a major source of air pollution. According to the UN:

  • Transport emissions were linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths in EU countries in 2014.
  • Almost half of all deaths linked to air pollution from transport are caused by diesel emissions.
  • Those living closest to major traffic arteries are up to 12% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
  • On top of this, transport is responsible for a quarter of global CO2 emissions - a number that is rising.

Switching to cycling, walking and public transport is one of the best changes an individual can make to reduce local air pollution and congestion. In cities in particular, where trips tend to be shorter, it is easier to take up cycling as a daily mode of transport that generates zero air pollution. Further, switching to cycling could actually reduce an individual's exposure to toxic air on busy roads. A 2018 UK study found that cyclists suffered the least exposure to air pollution during a 4km journey, compared to people in cars, buses and even walkers

The emergence and rise of the e-cargo bike also holds great potential for reducing air pollution. These types of bicycles are used more and more for delivering goods – thereby taking diesel-powered delivery vehicles off the road. Major players in the courier and delivery market have launched e-bike/e-cargo bike delivery programmes, and a 2018 Dutch study found that 20% of all delivery vans in cities could be replaced by e-cargo bikes.


Simple two-wheeled solution

China is this year’s host of the global World Environment Day celebrations, and events are taking place across Chinese cities to raise awareness on air pollution and encourage action by individuals, companies and politicians. The country has made great strides in tackling air pollution - in no small part by promoting cycling.

Hangzhou, a major Chinese city with a population close to 10 million, will host the main event in the country. It was the first Chinese city to introduce a public bike-share scheme in 2008, and by 2017 there were ten bike sharing companies operating in the city, providing over 882,000 bikes. The city has constructed good quality bike lanes, and the public bike-share scheme is well integrated with other public transport options. Since 2008, it is estimated that hundreds of millions of bike trips have taken place in Hangzhou - discouraging the use of polluting vehicles and curbing air pollution for the benefit of people and the environment.


Join the Challenge

Interested in getting involved and doing your part to fight air pollution? Aside from shifting to cycling for as many trips as possible, you can join the UN’s Mask Challenge for World Environment Day. All are welcome to join the challenge - taking a “selfie” picture or video wearing a mask, and posting it on social media alongside a pledge to take personal action to #BeatAirPollution.

To register and find events taking place under World Environment Day, visit this page