COP26 cycling protest gets recognition

Last week, Bicycle Network joined a list of signatories on an open letter to the governments meeting at the UN's 26th Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), urging them to address the fact the world needs more cycling if we are to combat the climate crisis.

The #COP26cycling letter was organised by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) and attracted signatures from 350 organisations from all over the world – including ITDP, PeopleForBikes, UCI, UITP, World Cycling Alliance and Greenpeace.

Prior to this, the official agenda for Transport Day on Wednesday 10 November had no mention of active transport or public transport, it was all about electric vehicles. 

This did not go unnoticed and upset a lot of people, including Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards.

"Accelerating the roll out of electric vehicles is the road of least resistance", said Craig on Transport Day (which was coincidentally National Ride2Work Day in Australia).

"There’s no arguing that electric vehicles should be part of our climate solution. But why are we settling for better when we should be striving for best? The humble bicycle should top today’s agenda."

On the ground in Glasgow, Greater Manchester’s transport commissioner (and Olympic cycling gold medalist) Chris Boardman said: “It’s crazy cycling isn’t on the main agenda here at COP26."

“People switching from normal cars to electric cars isn’t progress. In the short term, it makes it worse because you’re going to manufacture electric cars, and we’re not ready to produce that much electricity for all of these new cars.”

Heather Thompson, CEO of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy agreed, stating: “We need to take fossil fuels out of the transportation sector. We will not meet our 1.5°C targets if we focus on electrifying private vehicles alone.”

U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer was equally unimpressed as he handed out bike badges in the conference room, stating: “It's a huge omission for cycling not to be on the main agenda today."

“Cycling burns calories instead of fossil fuel, and we needed to have more focus on that today. Electric cars are the shiny new thing, but we must not ignore cycling,” he added.

Protestors also gathered outside the conference in Glasgow and rang their bells in protest under the banner reading 'This machine fights climate change'. 

And our protests were heard!

Following intensive on-the-ground and online lobbying from cycling, walking and transit organisation, as well as a plea from the EU’s Matthew Baldwin at the transport plenary session, a last-minute addition to the official COP26 Transport Declaration included the following sentence at the bottom of the document:

We recognise that alongside the shift to zero emission vehicles, a sustainable future for road transport will require wider system transformation, including support for active travel, public and shared transport.

It’s possible this sentence was inserted when it was confirmed that Baldwin, the EU coordinator for road safety and sustainable urban mobility, would speak in the plenary session, but we still think all of the protestors and lobbyist should give themselves a pat on the back. 

Baldwin's speech to all attendees welcomed the high-level agenda discussion on zero emission vehicles, but stated "this is clearly not going to be enough".

We need "more use of public transport [and] we need more walking more cycling as part of the move towards climate neutral cities by 2030,” he added.

So, while the short add-on to the COP26 Transport Declaration is a far cry from what's needed to reach climate goals, it is something, which is better than nothing, and an important recognition to be built upon at COP27 in Egypt.  

Feature image: Matthew Baldwin speaking on Transport Day at COP26

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