It might feel like commuting to work on a bicycle once a week doesn’t accomplish much. A new study shows the opposite! Even small changes can have a big impact on our climate. Let’s take a closer look at what we, individual cyclists, can do to contribute.

Active transport can save a quarter of your personal emissions

A new study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that shifting to active transport could save as much as a quarter of personal CO2 emissions from transport. It suggests that increases in active transport significantly lower carbon footprints even in European cities where people walk and ride their bikes a lot.

Barcelona cycling
Cycling reduces emissions by half a ton per year. © Profimedia

Co-author Dr Audrey de Nazelle, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Our findings suggest that, even if not all car trips could be substituted by bicycle trips, the potential for decreasing emissions is huge.”

Even small changes count

The researchers collected data on travel behaviour from nearly 2,000 people living in 7 European cities – Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Orebro, Rome, Vienna, and Zurich. Lead researcher Dr Christian Brand from the University of Oxford, said: “We found that those who switch just one trip per day from car driving to cycling reduce their carbon footprint by about 0.5 tonnes over a year.”

Cycling in Rome
Cycling to work once a week makes a difference. © Profimedia

For the cities in this study, average per capita CO2 emissions per person per year from transport ranged between 1.8 tonnes in the UK to 2.7 tonnes in Austria. A reduction of 0.5 tonnes would be very significant. “If just 10% of the population were to change travel behaviour, the emissions savings would be around 4% of lifecycle CO2 emissions from all car travel,” Dr Christian added.

Cyclists have 84% lower emissions than non-cyclists

The study’s results showed that those who already cycled had 84% lower CO2 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists. The study also found that switching from car to bicycle had the largest benefits for business travel, social and leisure trips, and commuting to work or school.

Cycling in a city
Citizens cycle on a street of Vienna. © Profimedia

Cycling is good for climate, social equality, and public health

The researchers commented that cycling is not only good for the climate, but also for reducing social inequalities and improving public health and quality of urban life.

“Investment in high-quality infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is likely to reduce inequalities, because the concepts involve mixing different population groups rather than maintaining the model of residential zoning by socioeconomic status currently used. This is one more piece of evidence on the multiple benefits of active travel, alongside our previous studies showing cycling is the best way to get around cities for both physical and mental health, and that promoting cycling helps tackle obesity. This should encourage different sectors to work together to create desirable futures from multiple health, environmental and social perspectives,” said Dr Nazelle.