A new study by the European Cyclists Federation (ECF) offers an in-depth comparison between the CO2 emissions of bicycling versus other modes of transportation. The new study is aimed at encouraging policy makers to make bicycle promotion a larger part of their greenhouse gas emission reduction toolkit.
What makes the study interesting (and useful for settling debates) is that it took into account not just the emissions from the vehicles themselves, but from the entire life cycle of the mode including production, maintenance and fuel — which in the case of bicycling includes caloric intake.
Even with the CO2 emissions of food required to power a bicycle, the ECF study found that — while not emissions free — the bicycle is still the lowest emitter of greenhouse gasses per passenger kilometer traveled. One of the key findings was that emissions from cycling are over 10 times lower than those stemming from the passenger car, “even taking into account the additional dietary intake of a cyclist compared with that of a motorised transport user.”
When the complete life cycle of each mode is calculated, here’s how they stack up (results in grams of CO2 per passenger per kilometer traveled):
- Bicycle: 21 g
- Electric-assist bicycle: 22 g (e-bikes scored well due to larger range of standard bicycle and therefore greater chance to replace passenger car trips)
- Passenger car: 271 g (based on short trips similar to those a bicycle could make)
- Bus: 101 g
The study was focused on the European Unions emission reduction goals, but the findings are useful for anyone in the transportation realm who needs data to back up arguments about CO2 emissions.
Here are a few other key findings taken from the study:
Bicycle-share schemes also have the potential to reduce further emissions, considering it is a substitute for motorised transport for 50-75% of the users.
If levels of cycling in the EU-27 were equivalent to those found in Denmark in 2000, bicycle use would achieve 26% of the 2050 GHG target set for the transport sector
With EU crude oil imports at 955 million barrels per year, EU citizens cycling at Danish levels would reduce EU oil importations by close to 10%.