Cycling could reduce your daily travel emissions by as much as 84%, new study finds

Cycling could reduce your daily travel emissions by as much as 84%, new study finds

By Lucy Jones  April 6th, 2021

The research shows active transport will be the key to achieving net-zero targets.


Biking to work might be having a bigger environmental impact than you think. A new study shows active transport options like cycling, e-biking and walking could help cities reach net-zero emissions goals much faster than electric vehicles.

Published in the journal of Transportation Research this month, the study looks at the entire life cycle of different transport options, calculating the carbon generated in the construction, use and disposal phases. Using this life cycle approach, researchers found that cycling emits 30 times less per trip than fossil fuel cars and ten times less than electric cars.

"Focusing solely on electric vehicles is slowing down the race to zero emissions," Christian Brand, one of the paper's authors and Associate Professor in Transport, Energy & Environment at the University of Oxford, explains.

"This is partly because electric cars aren’t truly zero-carbon – mining the raw materials for their batteries, manufacturing them and generating the electricity they run on produces emissions."

Christian and a team of researchers from across Europe gathered data from 4,000 people living in London, Antwerp, Barcelona, Vienna, Orebro, Rome and Zurich. The participants recorded 10,000 trips in travel diaries over a two-year period. From this data, the research team generated the following findings:

  • People who cycle every day generate 84 per cent less daily carbon emissions than those who don't.

  • People who switch from a car to a bike for just one trip per day save half a tonne of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking a one-way flight from London to New York.

  • People who cycle instead of driving one day each week save 3.2kg of CO2, about the same amount of emissions generated by driving for 10km or sending 800 emails.

  • If one in five people replaced part of their car travel with cycling, Europe's carbon emissions could be reduced by 8 per cent over the next few years.

Active travel rates are at an all time high, with cities around the world expanding cycling networks as part of commitments to 'build back better' after the pandemic.

"Nearly half of the fall in daily carbon emissions during global lockdowns in 2020 came from reductions in transport emissions," Christian says.

"Active travel has offered an alternative to cars that keeps social distancing intact. It has helped people to stay safe during the pandemic and it could help reduce emissions as confinement is eased, particularly as the high prices of some electric vehicles are likely to put many potential buyers off for now."

"Active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles while also providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transportation."

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 


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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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