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Network Says Cars Cause Climate Change

UN Summit Urged To See The Elephant In The Room: Cars Cause Climate Change

Montreal/Prague - As representatives of 180 nations meet in Montreal for the first summit on climate change since the Kyoto Protocol came into effect, an unacknowledged elephant is lounging in their midst. Despite all the clamor and fury of international negotiations on climate change, even the most environmentally-friendly governments are reluctant to face this beast – cars produce more greenhouse emissions than any other single source.

World Carfree Network, an international association of organizations focused on sustainable transport, is urging the delegates at the Montreal summit to focus on cars, both as one of the most threatening causes of climate change and as an indicator of one relatively painless solution to the crisis. Globally, road transport (cars and trucks) accounts for as much as 40 percent of the gases that contribute to climate change, and emissions from private cars are increasing faster than those from any other source. Yet, viable alternatives to cars abound; bicycles, trains and even human feet can usually take their place.

“It should be obvious that cars are directly connected to climate change. Of all transport emissions, road transport makes up 77 percent, while air travel only makes up 9 percent and rail a mere 4 percent,” says Lela Gary, director of the www.ecopolitics.org website and a network member.

While road transport is a troubling factor, it is probably the easiest piece in the whole climate-change puzzle. Emissions from road transport could be cut in half in developed countries in a few years with little or no economic pain, simply by limiting car use in city centers to service vehicles and deliveries; redirecting funds for road construction to public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure, rail freight systems and non-motorized municipal delivery systems. The result could be an almost immediate reduction in climate-damaging emissions of up to 20 percent.

“Cars are one of the primary factors disrupting the planet’s climate,” says Augustin Villegas, a network organizer in Mexico. “If world governments want to combat climate change, the first step is to build infrastructure for walking, cycling and rail transport, instead of destroying it.” Mexico’s rail infrastructure was largely dismantled in 2000, and now the Bush administration is considering doing the same with the US rail company Amtrak.

Most world governments tend to avoid the issue of systemic dependence on private cars. Even the European Union, which is the most pro-active in combating climate change, has chosen to focus on bio-fuels for cars, which reduce emissions far less than would a shift to public and non-motorized transport. It is well-known that a shift away from cars would threaten the multi-billion dollar automobile industry, but the public remains largely unaware that rail and non-motorized transport are both less expensive for communities and a better boost for local economies than automobile-based transport.

For example, the construction of a mile of urban expressway costs around $100 million, while a rail line of similar capacity costs around $15 million per mile and a cycling road only $1 million. As early as 1999, a study by the German Environment Agency found that the more environmentally-friendly modes of transport are almost always less expensive. Moreover, the US Center for Transportation Excellence states that every $1 that US tax payers invest in public transport generates $6 in economic returns, including new jobs and increased business sales. For every $10 million invested in public transport, local business sales increase by $30 million.

“The summit in Montreal is a tipping point,” says J.H. Crawford, a member of the network’s advisory board. “The time has come to redirect subsidies from automobile transport to more sustainable modes such as rail and bicycle. This summit gives world leaders a platform from which to garner popular support for action on climate change while actually helping local economies.”

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