Active travel gets last-minute look-in at COP26

Despite the heavy focus on electric vehicles at COP26, active travel advocates were at pains to point out the vital role walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport have to play in our response to the climate emergency.

A billboard showing a picture of a bicycle beside the caption "THIS MACHINE FIGHTS CLIMATE CHANGE"
Image: Cycling UK

To the frustration of many, COP26 Transport Day focused predominantly on electric vehicles, with cycling, walking, trains and buses all excluded from the high-level discussions.

Although EVs are part of the mix of lower carbon solutions needed, the infrastructure necessary to support them is nowhere near where it needs to be in the short timeframe available and, even if it ever gets there, they’re no silver bullet and won’t be enough to reduce emissions on their own.

Missing the obvious

Living Streets, Sustrans and Cycling UK were among the UK organisations who attended COP26 to shine a light on the low-cost, low-tech modes we already have at our fingertips and are in danger of overlooking in the quest for shiny high-tech solutions: walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport.

Road transport accounts for 17% of global emissions, and this figure is rising. Transport is the sector with the fastest-growing emissions, accounting for 24% of CO2 emissions in 2020. As most car trips in Europe are less than five kilometres, we can’t afford to ignore the importance of active and public transport in reducing carbon emissions and a host of other problems, such as inactivity, congestion and air pollution.

301 organisations, including Oxford’s own Cyclox, signed a joint letter initiated by the European Cyclists’ Federation calling on government leaders to commit to boosting cycling levels to reduce carbon emissions and reach global climate goals quickly and effectively.

Last-minute addition

At the conference, an eleventh-hour intervention by the EU Coordinator for Road Safety/Sustainable Mobility, Matthew Baldwin, as well as intensive lobbying by active travel organisations from around the world, resulted in the addition of one sentence on active travel to the Glasgow Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero Emission Cars and Vans (read the full story from Forbes, below).

Catch up on COP26 events

On Transport Day, walking charity Living Streets hosted a full day of events, including an enlightening discussion on the key role of active travel featuring, among others, Dame Sarah Storey, Sir Patrick Vallance, Chris Boardman, MBE and Mayor of Utrecht Sharon Dijksma.

The full event is available to view here:

Recordings of Living Streets’ other COP26 events can be accessed here:

Living Streets at COP26
This year sees Glasgow host the world’s most important summit on climate change - and Living Streets is proud to be there.

Read Forbes’ article on the last-minute inclusion of active and public transport here:

Active Travel, Transit Added To Official COP26 Declaration After Last-Minute Appeal By EU Official
Today’s main agenda item on the COP26 Transport Day focussed primarily on electric vehicles, excluding bicycles, walking, trains and buses.

Other articles on this topic:

Henk Swarttouw: “Investing in cycling to save our planet is a no-brainer”
We cannot afford to wait decades for our fleet of fossil-fuel cars to be fully replaced by electric vehicles. To cut transport CO2 emissions quickly and on a massive scale, EU and world leaders must commit to boosting global cycling levels now.
Europe’s most powerful electric vehicle charging hub heading to Oxford
Oxford City Council has teamed up with a consortium of UK companies to deliver Oxford Superhub, the UK’s largest electric vehicle charging hub
Active transport makes a significant impact on carbon emissions, says Oxford University
Cycling, e-biking or walking can help tackle the climate crisis – even if you swap the car for active transport just one day a week