Cycling and carbon emissions
Cycling is the most energy efficient form of land transport and is generally labelled as a “zero emissions vehicle.” While not truly greenhouse gas (GHG) free, it's carbon footprint is substantially lower compared to other common forms of transport and is the greenest vehicle possible to own.
According to the study done by the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF) and using TNO data, the bicycle is not completely emissions free when one takes into account the carbon emissions from production and manufacture. However, a life cycle assessment of various modes of transport: the bicycle, bus, and car shows how drastically different in CO2 emissions each mode of transport is. The study made by ECF looks at the life cycle (including production, operation, and maintenance phases) of bicycles, buses, and cars. A bicycle (an average commuter bicycle was used in this study weighing 19.9kg, composed of 14.6kg of aluminum, 3.7 kg of steel and 1.6kg of rubber and to last 8 years and cover a distance of 2,400km each year) was found to release about 21 grams of CO2e per passenger per kilometre travelled, whereas a bus emitted 101g and a car 271g CO2e per passenger-kilometre -- over ten times more than a bicycle!
London has seen a steady rise in the number of cyclists, with an increase of 70 per cent compared to 2001 and 6 per cent more than 2009 to 2010. That means that daily there are roughly 54,000 cyclists on the road in London. However, in London the Mayor’s Low Carbon Zones Programme, meant to take a “community approach to cutting the capital’s carbon footprint” does not include cycling. Instead, cycling’s “revolution” is stated in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy: “There will be unprecedented levels of investment in cycling over the next 10 years to improve cycle infrastructure and information. This will help secure the health, environmental and congestion benefits of a cycle revolution.”
The EU has made climate mitigation an important policy measure. By 2050, the EU has set about reducing its GHG emissions by 80 to 95% compared to 1990 levels. However, transport remains a challenge: between 1990 and 2007, greenhouse gas emissions from transport in the EU increased by 36%, while greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors decreased by 15% during the same period. Despite the increase in GHG transport emissions, the EU will have to reduce emissions in the transport sector by an estimated 60%. An increase in cycling is believed to help greatly in meeting these transport targets. In what ways could these targets be met through the bicycle?
The ECF study, for example, gives evidence towards EU policy goals being met by an increase in cycling through an “avoid and shift” policy measure (ie drivers should avoid or reduce taking trips by car, shift towards less carbon-intensive and privately motorised means of transport. Both can be met through transport planning and use integration). London is pursuing a similar type of strategy by aiming to improve bicycle infrastructure, provide better information, and promote behaviour change/’mainstreaming’ bicycling.
In terms of carbon finance, at the moment projects that could help mitigate emissions and increase bicycle traffic would be through the CDM, nationaly appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) or the voluntary carbon market. Other means such as the voluntary carbon market have been explored as well: The CDM has not yet worked to stimulate mitigation actions in transport. As of May 2011 only 0.6% of CDM project activities were transport related, and of the projects registered only 0.2% took place in the transport sector. This limited application of transport projects under the current CDM is in large part due to difficulties in methodology and finance. NAMAs are voluntary emissions reduction measures by developing countries that are directly reported to the UNFCCC. The Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport is a proponent for NAMAs in transport policy since in developed and devloping countries “only a long term strategy and planning will result in conditions that make people to choose for walking and cycling instead of a car or motorised two-wheeler.” Again, finance here is an issue, however the Partnership psuhes for pilot NAMAs and to realise the long term cost benefits of building sustainable, low carbon transport. The voluntary carbon market has recently been explored as a means as well. A methodology is currently under development for “determining GHG Emission Reductions through Bicycle Sharing Projects”.
Many cities in developing countries, such as Cape Town (South Africa), Delhi (India), Rio de Janiero (Brazil), and Antalya and Sakarya (Turkey) have made cycling and cycling infrastructure a transport initiative. For example in Delhi, all new transport policies must include cycling and pedestrian facilities. This is headed by the National Ministry of Urban Development and partially funded by low-carbon funding. In Turkey, the cities of Sakarya and Antalya both were able to develop a cycling-inclusive transport policy through the Dutch group Interface for Cycling Expertise. Implementation of the pilot cycling routes began in 2011. It is hoped that these cities and others in the developing world may be able to catalyse their cycling initiatives further as a fully accredited NAMA project.
Despite the impressive rise in cyclists in London (visible since I moved to this city four years ago), there is still a far way to go. Air pollution and the high use of transport vehicles within the city remains as issues for the Mayor. Furthermore, London currently only has a two per cent modal share. In cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Beijing, and lesser known cities such as Oulu (northern Finland), Trondheim (Norway), and Groningen (Holland) all have cycling levels in excess of 10% modal share. In fact, all except Norway exceed 25% modal share, and some Chinese cities and Groningen exceed 50%. London hopes to reach only 5 per cent by 2026. Perhaps more than government initiative is needed to spur development in cycling infrastructure and pro-cycling behaviour in the capital?