The transport sector currently accounts for over a quarter of all fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions, which negatively impact our climate. Half of these emissions are caused by passenger cars, and worldwide transport demand is expected to triple by 2050. In their efforts to decarbonize transport, governments and industries have recently turned towards electric vehicles.
However, as a research team from the University of Southern Denmark argues, a much older, low-carbon technology might help us reduce emissions and mitigate climate change: the bicycle. According to a new study published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, cycling more could be a highly effective solution for reducing emissions, as well as promoting better health.
The researchers compiled the first global dataset of bicycle ownership and use by country, dating back to the early 1960s, and used statistical modeling to fill in any information gaps. Data analysis revealed that, between 1962 and 2015, global production of bikes was higher than that of cars, with China accounting for almost two-thirds of the more than 123 million bikes manufactured in 2015.
While bicycle ownership was higher in upper- and upper-middle-income countries, so was the percentage of motor vehicle use, suggesting that bicycle ownership does not necessarily lead to high bicycle use. Among the 60 countries analyzed, the share of bicycle use for journeys was only five percent.
According to the scientists, if people emulated the Danish or Dutch bicycle use patterns – with the Danes cycling an average of 1.6 kilometers per day and the Dutch 2.6 – the world could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 686 million metric tons per year.
“A worldwide pro-bicycle policy and infrastructure development enabled modal shift like the Netherlands and Denmark can lead to significant untapped climate and health benefits,” the authors wrote. “In the end, 0.34 and 0.62 million deaths could be prevented if the Danish and Dutch cycling patterns were followed globally.”
Thus, countries should promote sustainable bicycle use via supporting policy, planning, and infrastructure development in order to lower global transport’s carbon footprint and improve public health.