Swapping the car for active travel one day a week makes a ‘significant impact’ on carbon emissions, according to a new study led by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit.
Emission targets are unlikely to be met without a significant move away from motorised transport, according to the researchers, and shifting to active transport could save as much as a quarter of personal CO2 emissions from transport.
Published in the journal Global Environmental Change, this is the first study of the carbon-reducing impact of city-based lifestyle changes and it reveals that increases in active mobility significantly lower carbon footprints, even in urban European contexts with a high incidence of walking and cycling.
Lead researcher Dr Christian Brand said: "By following nearly 2,000 urban dwellers over time 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, representing a substantial share of average per capita CO2 emissions.
"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.
"Our findings suggest that, even if not all car trips could be substituted by bicycle trips, the potential for decreasing emissions is huge."
The study collected primary data on daily travel behaviour, journey purpose, as well as personal and geospatial characteristics in seven European cities and derived mobility-related lifecycle CO2 emissions over time and space.
Average per capita CO2 emissions from transport (excluding international aviation and shipping) ranged between 1.8 tonnes of CO2 per person per year in the UK to 2.7 tonnes of CO2 per person per year in Austria.
According to the Global Carbon Atlas, average per capita CO2 emissions from all activities were eight tonnes per year in the UK (on a consumption basis).
The largest benefits from shifting from car to active travel are for business travel followed by social and leisure trips, and commuting to work or place of study, according to the researchers.
They also found that those who already cycled had 84% lower CO2 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists.
Dr Brand added that switching from car to active mobility would not only “make a real difference” to climate change, it would also reduce social inequalities and improve public health and quality of urban life post-Covid-19.