UKERC Experts Contribute to Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book

27 Oct 2022

On the day the clocks change to ‘British Winter Time’, I am cycling from Oxford to London to attend The Climate Event at the Royal Festival Hall, which will showcase Greta Thunberg’s latest publication, The Climate Book. Together with my UKERC colleague Jillian Anable, I was invited as one of the 100 contributors to this book and hope to raise awareness of the huge challenge we face in decarbonising the way we move by using the most energy-efficient and low-carbon form transport available today: the humble bicycle. The 100 kilometres will take about 6 hours (plus breaks) and cover rural counties, the Chilterns and urban London on mostly quiet roads – no motorways! While the climate will be unquestionably autumnal, we are hoping for the weather gods to be kind.

So, how much carbon will we save by cycling instead of driving or using public transport? If we travelled by car our lifecycle carbon emissions for the Oxford-London journey would be about 16 kg of CO2.1 If we’d use public transport, about 7 kg of CO2. By bike this would be less than 2 kg of CO2.1 So by cycling we will save about 14 kg of CO2 – equivalent to the emissions from eating five servings of lamb or chocolate, or sending 3,500 emails. We know that cycling is cheaper, healthier, better for the environment, and no slower on congested urban streets. It is a key part of the solution to decarbonise transport, but it won’t be enough. We pretty much have to do everything, and fast.

In ‘our’ chapter on transport challenges and solutions, my UKERC colleague Jillian Anable and I argue that tackling the climate and air pollution crises requires curbing all motorised transport, particularly private cars, as quickly as possible. Focusing solely on electric vehicles and technology that is not proven at scale is actually slowing down the race to zero emissions, as it diverts resources and political will away from other solutions. It is now widely agreed that there is no way we can meet the decarbonization targets of the Paris Agreement by 2050 without focusing on the amount of movement of people and goods. In the UK, Scotland and Wales have traffic reduction targets by 2030, but the UK as a whole continues to ignore the issue.

The chapter provides ideas and evidence of what we can and should do, both at the system level and individually, covering a range of topics such as 15-minute neighbourhoods, banning large SUVs in cities, active travel, car restraint, ‘slow steaming’ and frequent flying. Tackling these issues is good for health, safety and air quality; enables more efficient and equitable use of resources; improves social and economic vitality; and makes for better neighbourhoods.

I still have to fully read the handbook which includes chapters on almost everything you might need to know about, from ‘how the climate works’ to ‘what we must do now’. From a first glance, it is an extraordinary body of work, full of passion as well as intellectual heft of the authors. I can’t wait to read it, talk about it, and put its messages into action.

Notes: 1 This is not zero, as cycling incurs emissions from infrastructure provision and bike manufacturing. Average lifecycle carbon emissions, from ITF report: Car 162 gCO2/passenger-km, coach/rail 66 gCO2/passenger-km, bike 17 gCO2/passenger-km.

Further info / links:

The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg – online resources underpinning the book.

The Problem: ‘Seven reasons global transport is so hard to decarbonise’

Part of the solution: ‘Cycling is ten times more important than electric cars for reaching net-zero cities’.

The journal papers and book chapters underpinning the cycling side of things:

  1. The climate change mitigation effects of daily active travel in cities.
  2. The climate change mitigation impacts of active travel: Evidence from a longitudinal panel study in seven European cities.
  3. WHO report ‘Walking and cycling: latest evidence to support policy-making and practice’.
  4. A general piece on ‘Cycling, climate change and air pollution’.