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The Potential of Cycling for Climate Protection

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Background & Policy context

In order to put a halt to climate change and its effects, Earth’s average temperature should not increase more than two degrees by 2050. This is a common goal which has been declared internationally. The European transport sector must therefore bring about reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 20 % by 2030 and 70 % by 2050 compared to 2008 levels (EU Transport White Paper). Germany is aiming for a reduction of total greenhouse gas emissions of 40 percent by 2020 as compared to 1990 levels.


It is becoming increasingly clear that, in order to attain climate protection goals and in light of the growing scarcity and costs of energy and other resources, we need to alter our consumption and transport behavior. Does that mean that it will soon be necessary or even sufficient, that all of us in Germany predominantly cycle in order to be mobile?

The study has the objective to obtain reliable estimates of the potential of cycling transport in terms of environmental protection.


Mobility data was evaluated from more than 175,000 persons from January to December 2008. Their daily, personal transport was analysed for workdays, including occasional business trips. Using this data, which is representative of a cross‐section of the population, the model “ProFaiR” (prognosis of the potential for shifts in vehicle kilometres and emissions reductions through integrated cycling promotion) was developed. It allows for variations modelling of different scenarios whilst accounting for social characteristics of persons in large cities or rural areas. The model incorporates trips to frequent destinations such as work or the supermarket. Route profiles, characterised by valleys, hills and mountains, are also accounted for. The model likewise considers modal split, network load, greenhouse gas emissions and the influence of congestion on travelled kilometres and energy consumption.


Other Programme
Funding Source
Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)


Shifting short car trips up to five kilometres only effects a small change in CO2 emissions of one to three percent since the share of these trips in driven kilometres is small. If cycling were to be used for destinations (further away) perceived by the public as having good cycling accessibility then the potential for reductions increases considerably to between six and 11 percent of total CO2 emissions in workday passenger transport. If along with mere shifts, strategies for avoiding or reducing traffic are integrated into the model then driven kilometres and CO2 emissions are reduced by 19 to 38 percent and 13 to 27 percent respectively. The results allow conclusions to be drawn as to the potential for cycling transport to reduce emissions and provide guidance on fitting this potential into holistic, sustainable strategies. Thus the contribution of modal shift away from the personal vehicle as well as of avoiding long car trips then becomes clear. On the whole it was determined that there is potential for cycling in Germany to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased walking and cycling, in particular for short, daily trips, is helpful and sends a clear signal for a shift in mentality and environmental protection. Longer trips however, which are responsible for the majority of transport-related CO² emissions, are not able to be substituted by cycling. In this case it is necessary to avoid or reduce traffic and to use the most efficient mode of transport.

How would Germans have to get around in future?

Integrated solutions are necessary for intelligent, environmentally friendly transport in future. The study looked at the effects of measures from several complementary strategic directions. Three important examples include:

(1) Modernisation of the vehicle fleet,

i.e. use of lowemitting or emissionsfree vehicles

(2) Shift travel to cycling,

i.e. use the bicycle for short trips

(3) Integrated shifting and avoidance (reduction) of traffic

i.e. choose short trips to closer destinations, improve conditions for using public transport as well as car sharing (along with cycling and walking the so‐called “mobility network”).

Detailed findings of the study are published by a final report (German only), which is available online via

Furthermore, an executive summary is available in English language via


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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