Never too many pedals

Published: Thursday 30 April 2009

-- Investing in urban cycling provisions is ultimate climate strategy

European countries have committed to reduce carbon emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990. This includes my country: the Netherlands. The targeted reductions are realized at home or through "offset" to other countries under the flexible instrument of the Kyoto Protocol, one of which is clean development mechanism (cdm). The mechanism is designed for buying emission rights from developing countries. The Dutch airline company klm is already buying carbon credits to compensate 10 per cent of its carbon emissions, on a voluntary corporate responsibility basis.

When this came in the news I approached klm with the idea of obtaining the value of emissions avoided as a result of cycling in their destination cities, like Delhi. It seemed obvious that a transport company from a typical cycling country--in the Netherlands 30 per cent of metropolitan trips are by bicycles--would try to offset its emissions by investing in the ultimate zero-emission transport mode, cycling. It was not that easy. klm liked the idea but needed official cdm certification. That made me think: how to bring cycling mobility under cdm?

There are two important strategies in addressing the problem of climate change: to reduce actual carbon emissions and to prevent potential carbon emissions. In the transport sector the common strategy is to reduce the actual pollution of the vehicles transporting passengers and goods and curtail release of fine particles as well as curb emission of CO2 from fossil fuel. The focus is therefore on fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable energy sources.

Cycling adds another dimension: it permits a prevention strategy. If cyclists were to switch over to public transport, motorcycles and Nanos there will be an increase in carbon emissions. So we need more cyclists. Preserving cycling mobility is not difficult; it basically comes to countering prohibitive aspects such as lack of access and unsafe roads. Cycling can be humanized by providing bridges over physical barriers (rivers, roads) and separate bicycle lanes along dangerous roads.

What keeps city governments from making these investments? The answer probably is that cyclists are poor and are not always political priority. But what if these poor cyclists happen to represent carbon credits? Once city government start selling cycling credits, cyclists are surely to get into political agendas. And good cycling provisions will make many leave their motorcycles, or even Toyotas and Mercedes, to stay fit. Cycling could be the transport sector's contribution to the carbon reduction obligations of emerging economies.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change issues a validation and verification manual for projects, which provides the basis for offsetting emissions from vehicles and fuels. But then bicycles do not emit. So should we model a hypothetical situation in which we estimate the emissions of a multitude of public transport vehicles to which the cyclists would flee if not provided with bridges and dedicated paths?

But I think we are at a dead end if we try to squeeze cyclists into a validation system for vehicles and fuels. Validation mechanisms should give a say to people making mobility choices and climate strategies should not be built around engines or fuels. We should build cities for people and not for cars.

As founder member of Interface for Cycling Expertise Jaap Rijnsburger is one of the creators of the Bicycle Partnership Programme for cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.