Embracing Active Travel As Key To Decarbonising Transport

Embracing Active Travel As Key To Decarbonising Transport
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Embracing Active Travel As Key To Decarbonising Transport. Image Unsplash.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The climate crisis we are facing is a reality that many of us struggle with. The staggering numbers are hard to truly comprehend, the actions (or the lack of) by global players feel out of our control, and the stream of scary climate news is downright depressing. It is no wonder that some of us are starting to feel powerless and like our personal contributions are too small to make even a dent in the bigger picture. This, however, doesn’t have to be the case.

Transport is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise and one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. A serious chunk of it is the daily use of cars, which most of us are guilty of. Leaving our cars at home and swapping them for active travel is a way for individuals to truly contribute towards decarbonising transport. A 2022 University of Southern Denmark study concluded that global carbon emissions would drop by almost 700 million tonnes per year if everyone cycled as much as the Dutch.

This shows how much of a crucial tool in our belt active travel can be and how it can be used to reduce emissions. Encouraging walking and cycling is the solution we can implement today to quickly decarbonising parts of transport such as the daily commute, a necessity that many can’t avoid.

What Exactly Is Active Travel?

Active travel is any form of human-powered transportation, such as walking and cycling, to travel from one place to another. Active travel promotes physical activity, which can help towards social, environmental and health goals by reducing CO2 emissions, traffic congestion and air pollution. It can contribute to the development of more sustainable and healthier communities.

Many places encourage active travel by creating more pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure and promoting walking and cycling as a means of transportation.

Why Is Active Travel So Important for Sustainability?

According to a government report, transport accounted for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK in 2020. We rely heavily on cars, trucks and planes for the smooth running of our day-to-day lives – from the daily commute in our car-dependent lifestyles to the grocery shop’s daily fresh food deliveries. Meanwhile, this entire ecosystem is heavily dependent on fossil fuel, carbon-intensive infrastructure and vehicles which leave a heavy carbon footprint behind while being constructed.

In recent years, a lot of the hype has been focused on electric cars. They have been hailed as a solution to decarbonising transport. However, e-cars, in 2019, accounted only for 2.6% of global car sales and about 1% of global car stock. Even though carmakers are now shifting to electric vehicles, projections are that by 2035 EVs could make up one-quarter of new sales at that point. Still, only 13 per cent of vehicles on the road would be electric. The issue is that cars have a relatively long lifespan, and the older fossil-fuelled ones will stay around for another decade or two.

Relying so heavily on electric cars to pull us quickly closer to our net zero goals is potentially a costly mistake. Replacing regular car fleets will take decades, making lowering transport’s carbon footprint a prolonged process. A realistic, cost-effective and reasonably quick way out of this is to embrace and encourage active travel and discourage car-dependent lifestyles. Unlike most other solutions, active travel isn’t just about a greener future and a better tomorrow. Active travel is a way to have a greener present and a better today.

Active travel through cycling, e-biking and walking is a globally viable option which can help reduce emissions quickly and comparatively easily. There are a lot of great examples from European cities, like Paris and many Dutch cities, which have reshaped their transportation systems to reduce car trips. They have made concerted efforts to expand and better their public transport networks, restrict vehicle traffic in some areas, and dramatically expand their bike lanes and paths.

Many examples from Denmark also include changing decades-old rules like cars having the right of way – on many streets, in Copenhagen or Amsterdam, this is no longer the case. Cyclists are given the right of way over other traffic, and many junctions and traffic lights are redesigned to put bikes first. Bike-friendly cities have invested in large bike-sharing programmes. They have also provided plentiful bike storage and parking spaces, a vital component of the active travel infrastructure, just like car parks.

Active travel is a relatively inexpensive solution that is both healthier for the people doing it and better for the environment. A 2021 study reveals just how impactful swapping your car for a bike can be. In the study, cyclists had 84% lower CO2 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists and an average person who ‘shifted travel modes’ from car to bike decreased life cycle CO2 emissions by 3.2 kgCO2/day. These figures show how vital active travel is for decarbonising transport and meeting net zero carbon targets. And let’s not forget the lessons of the pandemic and its obvious effect on CO2 emissions drops worldwide.

Embracing active travel as a key strategy for decarbonising transport is a powerful solution that offers numerous benefits for individuals, communities, and the environment. Governments and local authorities must prioritise and invest in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, increase public awareness, and collaborate to make active travel a central component of our transportation systems. Active travel is a way to alleviate some pressure on our cities and planet quicker and earlier than electric vehicles and other more complex and expensive solutions. Importantly, it is also something that most of us can do and be in control of, making us an active part of decarbonising our world and not just a passive bystanders. Active travel can empower people to pave the way towards a greener present and a sustainable tomorrow together.

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