The solution is under our noses: We need more cycling in Britain

Today 27 per cent of journeys in Holland are made by bike - while in Britain the figure is as low as 2 per cent. But cycling could help us achieve our 2050 carbon targets, and take the strain off the NHS.

As water rushes over parts of the UK and the USA recovers from its "Polar Vortex", the climate change debate has returned with a vengence. Correlating directly with our use of fossil fuels, up to 97 per cent of climate science papers now agree that climate change is a problem, and that the world is getting warmer. Comments by figures such as Jeremy Clarkson and Donald Trump calling climate change "science fiction" and "global warming bullshit" look more ridiculous than ever.

But what can we do about it? Although UK cycling has received some bad press in recent months after a spate of deaths in the capital, encouraging more people to cycle seems a remarkably obvious way to help to reduce our carbon emissions and save energy – and is something that is supported by all the major political parties. At least on paper. The transport sector is responsible for a large number of UK emissions, and by limiting them through the use of alternative transport methods the impact could be significantly lower.

On this front, some European countries are well ahead of the curve. Holland, Denmark and Germany all have transport systems that revolve around the use of bicycles. In Holland especially, bikes are everywhere, lining the streets, chained up en masse outside train stations in spaces as large as car parks, and taking precedence on the roads. This healthy relationship with cycling began after protests sparked by the deaths of children on the roads and the 1980s oil crisis led to the introduction of car-free areas in city centres and the rebuilding of roads to encompass separate lanes. Today 27 per cent of journeys in Holland are made by bike.

A 2011 study by the European Cyclists’ Federation, Cycle More Often 2 Cool The Planet, argued “if levels of cycling in the EU-27 were equivalent to those found in Denmark, bicycle use would help achieve 12 to 26 per cent of the 2050 target reduction set for the transport sector.” At the moment, the UK is falling well short, with around 2 per cent of all journeys being taken on bikes by comparison with the Danes' 16 per cent. But that could change: cycling in the UK has a risen by a fifth over the past 10 years.

Speaking to Martin Key from British Cycling, the national governing body for cycling in Great Britain, the wider picture is revealed. While stating that these are “rough calculations”, Key tells me “transport is the single biggest emitter of Co2 (21 per cent of UK emissions)”.

He expands, saying that if we increased the amount we cycle by 500 per cent by 2025, which is “the recommended target of the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report (which says 10 per cent of all journeys should be made by bike)”, then we would eventually save “10 million tons of Co2 (25 billion miles at 400g of Co2 per mile driven).”

It is in cutting small car journeys and commuter miles where the most energy would be saved – almost a fourth of car journeys made in the UK are under a mile. Despite the imperfect environment for cycling in London, since 2010 "Boris bikes" (or "Ken bikes" as they should properly be called, having been originally planned by the previous mayor) have done a lot to promote inner city commuter cycling – mirroring the 2007 Vélib scheme in Paris.

Boris has promised a "cycling revolution", but little impact has been felt beyond London. A nation-wide scheme would be more appropriate in terms of significantly cutting down on energy usage. Of course there needs to be expenditure in the first instance, but as can be seen in a recent study on town-wide cycling initiatives in England, the social and environmental benefits offset the negatives.

Of course, cycling won’t just benefit the environment: it would lower obesity levels and related illnesses. If the UK can get it right, and create a system comparable to the Netherlands', where despite having the highest proportion of cyclists, they also have the lowest number of cycling fatalities, the benefits to UK carbon output and society as a whole would be enormous.

A lone cyclist on Southwark Bridge. Photograph: Getty Images.
Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.