SCCS blog: walking and cycling can tackle climate change now

By Alex Quayle, Senior Policy Officer, Sustrans Scotland.

Changing the way we travel is vital to reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change. But just having more electric vehicles on our streets is not the answer. To make a real difference, we need to cut carbon levels quickly and deeply. That means getting a lot more people to leave their cars at home and choosing to walk and cycle for everyday trips.

More than a quarter of Scotland’s carbon emissions come from transport. But, unlike the energy and industrial sectors, which also produce a lot of carbon, it has made the least reduction in its emissions. Doing something about carbon that comes from the exhaust pipes of cars, lorries and planes is a no-brainer. And it is exactly what the Scottish government have decided to tackle, with their plans to phase-out the need to buy new fossil fuel cars by 2032.

However, combining cleaner vehicles with getting more people to swap their cars for trips by foot or bike delivers a bigger reduction in Scotland’s carbon emissions. Research indicates that this could halve transport carbon emissions by 2050. The move would come with extra benefits too, such as improving people’s general health and activity levels. Most importantly, it’s a change which is cheaper, and which can be done more quickly.

Climate change demands cuts in carbon as quickly as possible. But the Scottish Government predicts it will take until 2030 to phase-out even half of fossil-fuelled vehicles from urban environments. And the electricity used to charge them is not yet carbon neutral. There is a lot that needs to happen before we can start relying only on electric cars as the answer to climate change.

We don’t just need cleaner vehicles, we need fewer of them on our roads. Whilst we wait for technology to catch up, there is still a lot we can be doing to make a difference to the way we travel. For example, we can:

·       Build more segregated cycle lanes along main roads in cities, towns and to commuter belts.
·       Have secure bike parking and changing facilities in all workplaces.
·       Reduce access for cars driving into city centres. Use the free space to make better public places and safer space for people on foot and bikes.
·       Improve our planning system to make sure important local services like shops and the GP are in a short, easy walk or cycle for local communities.
·       Shut the streets to cars around school gates. This will improve road safety and air quality and encourage more people to leave the car at home.

At Sustrans Scotland we want everyone to have the choice to walk and cycle for simple, everyday journeys. This will help lower carbon emissions, unblock our urban areas and make Scotland a healthier nation. With this in mind, the Scottish Government deserves credit for doubling the yearly active travel budget to £80 million. This will help make walking and cycling safer and more attractive to many.

But the same government also predicts that by 2032, traffic levels will have risen by more than a quarter. We cannot, and must not let our cities become choked by cars and harmful fumes as we wait for electric cars to come to the rescue.

If we are to meet carbon targets, research has shown we need to cut our transport emissions through a combination of cleaner technology and more walking and cycling. Encouraging more people to walk and cycle can happen much more quickly, and it is only by doing this that Scotland can meet the climate targets it has set.

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