Focusing just on electric cars could impede race to net zero

Recharging An Electric Car in Amsterdam

Credit: tunart / Getty Images

Research shows how active travel, such as walking, cycling and e-biking, can contribute to tackling the climate emergency.

More emphasis should be placed on the role of active travel to reduce emissions and help tackle climate change in the immediate term. That is according to current research by Dr Christian Brand, Co-Director of the UK Research and Innovation funded UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC). He suggests that solely focusing on electric vehicles, could slow down the race to zero emissions.

Globally only 1 in 50 new cars were fully electric in 2020, and 1 in 14 in the UK. Even if all new cars were electric now, it would still take 15 to 20 years to replace the world’s fossil fuel car fleet.

Observing travel habits

With this in mind, UKERC explored the impact of swapping cars for cycling, e-biking and walking, by observing the travel habits of around 4,000 people living in:

  • London
  • Antwerp
  • Barcelona
  • Vienna
  • Orebro
  • Rome
  • Zurich.

Over a 2-year period, the research revealed that people who cycled daily had 84% lower carbon emissions from all their daily travel than those who didn’t.

The research also found that the average person who shifted from using a car to a bike, for just 1 day a week, cut their carbon footprint by 3.2kg of CO2. This is equivalent to eating a serving of lamb or chocolate, or sending 800 emails. The findings illustrate that active travel is crucial to tackling the climate emergency, while also providing transportation that is:

  • affordable
  • reliable
  • clean
  • healthy
  • congestion-busting.

Engaging global audiences

The research findings have been shared widely, with examples including:

  • 2 scientific papers, these are scoring highly on Altmetric, reflecting a global reach, over 50 news outlets, 10 blogs and 1,400 Twitter users with an upper reach of approximately 5 million users
  • translated into French and Spanish, just 1 article in The Conversation reached a global audience of more than 180,000 readers – it was also shared widely on social media, reaching over 2,300 tweets and over 37,000 shares on Facebook
  • Bloomberg
  • the Global Cycling Network’s YouTube channel (which has 2.7 million subscribers).

UKERC have also actively engaged with officials at:

  • UK Department for Transport
  • European Commission
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • NGOs
  • city authorities (Paris, Rome, Vancouver, London).

UKERC is funded via the UK Research and Innovation Energy Programme, by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Last updated: 16 February 2024

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