COP26 Special #2: Pedal forward - your time has come
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Last week I was at COP26 learning about the COP process, climate change evidence, solutions and actions.
I chose cycling as my form of transport to get around Glasgow during COP26. I was very lucky to be able to borrow my friend’s bike for the week. I was a bit nervous about borrowing a bike. I once borrowed a bike from a friend’s family in Washington DC and after 5 minutes in a bookshop I returned to a one wheeled bike – yep the only bit that wasn’t chained had gone from a busy street! It was a long half-push, half-carry across the city and a rather embarrassed return of the remaining bike to my hosts. But never before have I chained my bike up anywhere so safe! Glasgow was awash with police for COP26.
I used to live in Glasgow and cycled around the city every day. I love the freedom of city cycling, past the cars and buses, avoiding the rubbish and the potholes, and just taking a direct route to anywhere you need to be. Of course, Glasgow’s weather was predictable and I did need the waterproof trousers that I had diligently packed. But the cool morning November air as I cycled along the Clyde River, away from the vehicles, was a delight. Glasgow has changed quite substantially in the last 10 years since I was a resident, not least in its cycle infrastructure. The greenway into town from the Southside was fab. I totally enjoyed cycling without concern for the traffic noises behind me. Bring it on Glasgow you can do more!
COP26 saw quite a lot of pedal power from those raising issues on climate change and sustainable travel. Not least teenager Jessie @climate_jess who cycled from her home in Devon to COP26 in Glasgow in support of her initiative @people_pedal_power and Dorothee Hildebrandt the 71 year-old grandmother from Sweden who had travelled 2,300km on her pink electric bike to stand in solidarity with other climate activists. She stood on the ‘open’ side of the 3m high security fence that defined the perimeter of the ‘blue zone’ with her simple message "ACT NOW!". The Adventure Syndicate, led by Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner Lee Craigie, who I bumped into, was also outside the UN blue zone talking to activists. This week I was “matching my miles” #MatchTheMiles an Adventure Syndicate initiative to get more people, particularly women and girls, active and using active forms of transport. I was also, of course, clocking-up the miles for the UK2Antarctica. To match my miles I was part of team ‘Bikey Wikey’ an informal women’s mountain biking WhatsApp group in Aberdeenshire where I live. Bikey Wikey has been an amazing addition to my life: solidarity, mud, much wetness, cake, smiles, laughs and friendship. What more could you ask for? Well, there’s also keeping-fit and not burning carbon too!
Over my 5 days at COP26 I cycled and ran 90 km as active transport; and this doesn’t include the many kms of walking around the massive exhibition and conference space that was the COP26 blue zone. Just imagine the impact if everyone in Glasgow travelled 90 km as active travel each week – what would the city look and feel like. The second Wednesday of COP26 was transport day. It is great to see that Active Travel was mentioned in the Glasgow Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100% Zero Emission Cars and Vans, albeit almost as a final aside.
“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.”
For high density living in cities, active transport should really be the go-to rather than the addition. The benefits for our health and well-being and that of our planet are significant. But active travel is now referenced in an official COP document; it might just be the first step or turn of the pedal, but it’s in there and the pedal power is building. We just need to keep the momentum, keep 1.5 degrees alive and pedal-forward.
Images (clockwise): No safer place to leave a bike in Glasgow; Dorothee Hildebrandt with her pink bike; Lee Craigie of the Adventure Syndicate interviews activists on the perimeter of the 'blue zone'; Dorothee Hildebrandt tells me about her journey from Sweden and her message; my friends and I snapped from the e-bus cycling into COP26 on day 1. Credits: Clare Bond; final photo Gareth Johnson.