A reduction of 686 million tons of carbon emissions per year could be achieved if every person in the world cycled 2.6 kilometres per day, similar to cycling patterns in The Netherlands, a Communications Earth & Environment paper reports. The findings are based on a global assessment of bicycle production, ownership, and usage by country from 1962–2015.
The transport sector accounts for a quarter of global fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions, with half coming from private vehicles, including passenger cars and trucks. Cycling is known to reduce emissions, but only plays a small role in transport in most countries. Historical patterns of global bicycle production, trade, stock, and usage remain poorly characterized, preventing thorough investigation of their roles in sustainable road transport.
Gang Liu and colleagues complied a global dataset for bicycle ownership and usage by country from 1962–2015. They suggest that global production of bicycles increased at a higher rate than cars during this period, with China accounting for 65.7% of global bicycle production in 2015, followed by Brazil, India, Italy and Germany taking up 5%, 4%, 2%, and 2%, respectively. They also found that high bicycle ownership did not necessarily lead to high bicycle usage, which accounted for less than 5% of daily trips in most countries worldwide. The authors suggest that if people were to adopt bicycle use patterns similar to Denmark, by cycling 1.6 kilometres a day, a reduction of 414 million tons of carbon emissions could be achieved per year, which is similar to the UK’s total carbon emissions in 2015. If Dutch bicycle use patterns were followed, this could increase to 686 million tons per year.
The authors suggest an urgent need to promote sustainable cycling by supporting global policy, planning, and infrastructure development, including policies to discourage car use through tax, pro-bicycle education and culture, and effective bicycle lanes planning and construction. Worldwide pro-bicycle policies and infrastructure development, similar to those in Denmark and The Netherlands, could have significant untapped climate benefits, they conclude.
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