Library image, photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

The climate change mitigation effects of daily active travel in cities

30 April, 2021

The climate change mitigation effects of daily active travel in cities

Christian Brand

Research paper   Transport & Mobility

Christian Brand, Evi Dons, Esther Anaya-Boig, Ione Avila-Palencia, Anna Clark, Audrey de Nazelle, Mireia Gascon, Mailin Gaupp-Berghausen, Regine Gerike, Thomas Götschi, Francesco Iacorossi, Sonja Kahlmeier, Michelle Laeremans, Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, Juan Pablo Orjuela, Francesca Racioppi, Elisabeth Raser, David Rojas-Rueda, Arnout Standaert, Erik Stigell, Simona Sulikova, Sandra Wegener and Luc Int Panis.


Active travel (walking or cycling for transport) is considered the most sustainable form of personal transport. Yet its net effects on mobility-related CO2 emissions are complex and under-researched. Here we collected travel activity data in seven European cities and derived life cycle CO2 emissions across modes and purposes. Daily mobility-related life cycle CO2 emissions were 3.2 kgCO2 per person, with car travel contributing 70% and cycling 1%. Cyclists had 84% lower life cycle CO2 emissions than non-cyclists. Life cycle CO2 emissions decreased by −14% per additional cycling trip and decreased by −62% for each avoided car trip. An average person who ‘shifted travel modes’ from car to bike decreased life cycle CO2 emissions by 3.2 kgCO2/day. Promoting active travel should be a cornerstone of strategies to meet net zero carbon targets, particularly in urban areas, while also improving public health and quality of urban life.

Figure: Sensitivity analyses. Exposure variables are: transport mode usage in panel (a), main mode of travel (by distance) in panel (b), cycling frequency in panel (c), and cycling (no/yes) in panel (d). The dots are the beta coefficients and indicate differences in log-transformed CO2 emissions (error bars are 95% CIs).

Publication details

Brand, C., Dons, E., Anaya-Boig, E., Avila-Palencia, I., Clark, A., de Nazelle, A., Gascon, M., Gaupp-Berghausen, M., Gerike, R., Götschi, T., Iacorossi, F., Kahlmeier, S., Laeremans, M., Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J., Pablo Orjuela, J., Racioppi, F., Raser, E., Rojas-Rueda, D., Standaert, A., Stigell, E., Sulikova, S., Wegener, S. and Luc Int Panis. 2021. The climate change mitigation effects of daily active travel in cities. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 93: 102764. doi: Opens in a new tab10.1016/j.trd.2021.102764  

Banner photo credit: Alireza Attari on Unsplash