Vanuatu climate diplomacy led to a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty which is pressing for international climate action. This is a clear demonstration of climate leadership from Vanuatu, saying what needs to be done: Now, not later. This is a logical and sensible decision backed by scientific community consensus. The majority of governments are reluctant to accept it by delaying effective climate policies. In other words, the majority of the world is reluctant to accept the reality and the urgent need to act to respect the Planet and the People, including future generations.
Another Vanuatu led climate initiative is the resolution adopted by UN General Assembly calling for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on climate change and human rights. Another great achievement from Vanuatu.
Globally, 86% of Green House Gas Emissions equivalent (GHGe) that cause climate change originate with fossil fuels.
Port Vila’s Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific needs to be accompanied by a visible and clear Vanuatu ambition to reduce its dependency on fossil fuel, from which the transport sector is the main contributor.
Vanuatu’s National Determined Contribution (NDC) is a self-defined climate pledge that details what Vanuatu will do to help the global goal to pursue the goal of a maximum of 1.5°C average increased temperature by 2100. Vanuatu’s NDC details how Vanuatu mitigates its own greenhouse gas emissions and will adapt to climate impacts and ensure sufficient finance to support these efforts. Cycling seems not to be a priority. Further, the word bicycle or cycling does not appear in Vanuatu’s NDC text, in spite of the clear existence of bicycles in Vanuatu and the increasing number of cyclists of all ages. Why?!…
The NDC is periodically reviewed. Hopefully, in the next version Vanuatu will articulate an ambitious set of actions to improve its public policy. This requires clear consultation within various sectors of society and key stakeholders from the Government to introduce real reforms in their public policies. There is a Vanuatu Cycling Federation that has a plan that demonstrates the links between cycling and the National Sustainable Development Plan. Consultations have started, but from the beginning it was observed that public agencies are not prepared to act without an overarching government approach and policy development coordination. The Ministry of Climate Change may play a leading role in promoting the policy environment going to broader consultation.
Cycling is a very practical action to reduce GHGe. Many cities around the world are promoting cycling as a mitigation action. But cycling is much more than addressing the climate crisis. The research is clear: cycling is good for people and society as a whole. People who cycle regularly live longer and healthier lives. People also report feeling happier when they travel by bicycle than any other form of transport. If seen from a holistic perspective, cycling can directly contribute to achieve wellbeing in Vanuatu as cycling benefits can be framed around topics of happiness, access, facilitator of an appropriate technology, knowledge, health, and social resilience. As Vanuatu advocates on its unique approach to development – “Another Kind of Wealth”.
Bicycles can use paths that cars cannot and reach places that cars can’t. Cycling can benefit people in both rural and urban areas, it can assist all ni-Vanuatu and visitors to improve their life while protecting the pristine paradise conditions.
But with an increasing proportion of people living and working in urban areas, the bicycle represents a practical alternative to the current car-oriented urban centers of Vanuatu.
Investing in appropriate infrastructure for cycling reflects a clear policy option focus on people rather than cars, while decreasing fossil fuel dependency.
It is cheaper investing in cycling-friendly infrastructure (immediate and long term costs) than investing in infrastructure for cars, and benefits more people.
The review of the current urban infrastructure is possible and not an expensive investment and promotes value for money. With the appropriate infrastructure and policies to make cycling attractive, it is possible to reduce and avoid traffic congestion and spend the time saved on more meaningful activities, hence improve people’s wellbeing.
Because of the small amount of space required, the bicycle is a more efficient way to move people in a constrained urban environment than, for example, the car.
It is known, from experiences in cities that adopted good cycling policies, that urban businesses located in car congested areas do not perform as well as in cycling-oriented areas. Congested Central Business Districts (CBDs) are not pleasant or healthy. Cycling can be beneficial to the economy by revamping CBDs and making them pleasant for citizens.
From an economical equity perspective, a bicycle is cheaper to purchase and maintain than a motor vehicle.
Bicycles are currently ignored in the majority of public policies in Vanuatu. There are currently more incentives to promote cars than bicycles. Public investment in car-centered roads is just an example. There are no incentives to import or maintain bicycles in Vanuatu, while car dealers and car maintenance business receive economic incentives from the state.
The Vanuatu Cycling Federation was recently revived as a sports institution and community-based organization that aims to promote cycling as a sport and bicycles as an appropriate means of transport.
Young people have a major demographic importance and deserve attention from the society. Young people are the group with the major use of bicycles.
The private sector is progressively making bicycles available on the market, although with poor cost/quality, which shows room for further business opportunities on the market. An innovative commercial business has just started to sell and rent electrical bicycles in Port Vila to tourists.
Bicycle maintenance businesses initiatives are still an emergent business with very few services available.
Vanuatu’s climate leadership can take real action to support the narrative. There is a great opportunity for Vanuatu to lead the Pacific in cycling promotion, with real innovative and necessary public policy to follow the great diplomatic and climate action initiative, by, for example, developing cycle-friendly policies and comprehensive infrastructure to make cycling easier and safer.
Environment can be improved while promoting Cycling
Walking and cycling are the means of transport with the least environmental impact.
The bicycle is the most energy efficient vehicle ever invented. Its mechanics are improving dramatically, with research and development investments in the bicycle industry increasing significantly on a global scale. Even cities with high inclination hills have more people using bicycles due to the increase of performance of the modern bicycles. Exposure to weather conditions is not a constraint for using a bicycle, for those who learn and appreciate the multiple benefits of commuting with a bicycle.
Air quality has improved in cities which have promoted the use of bicycles while reducing carbon emissions. Better and cheaper than investing in future carbon capture technologies – non-existent – is investing in cycling. Compared with cars, buses and other vehicles, the product life cycle of a bicycle generates minimal carbon emissions.
Cycling helps to improve the quality of public space by turning car park spaces into bike lanes and playgrounds with green areas.
Cycling is silent, reducing traffic noise which elevates stress levels and negative mental health conditions.
World Bicycle Day 2023 Erakor Village Girls race, final.
Economy can be improved while promoting cycling
Cycling is a low-cost means of transport for individuals and does not demand great public investment like car-oriented infrastructure.
Riding a bicycle daily does not require fuel costs, and has average yearly costs for maintenance of the equivalent of 35.000 vatu per year.
The cost of driving a car per year is more than 1.000.000 vatu.
Riding a bicycle requires a much lower investment than driving a car. Cycling requires burning of fat and sugar while driving burns fossil fuels.
Each kilometer cycled is beneficial to society, as it prevents air and noise pollution. The positive effect for the society per kilometer is 85 vatu.
Each kilometer use of public transport represents a cost to society with multiple and long term negative effects of 35 vatu.
Each kilometer use of a car represents a cost to society with multiple and long term negative effects costing 45 vatu.
Use of public transport rather than cars benefits society by 10 vatu per kilometer.
A citizen who decides to give up a car to use a bicycle creates a car benefit to the society of 130 vatu a kilometer, by stopping the negative effects and creating positive ones.
Cyclists promote local businesses by being loyal to local mechanics, if they are available. Cycling mechanic is a great job opportunity in a transition economy if strategically viewed by public policy.
Youth empower programs, the Vanuatu Institute of Technology and the Correctional Services can have a determined strategic role in the transition of the transport economy into the development of a carbon free cycling sector in both urban and rural areas of Vanuatu.
Individual and Public Health can be improved while promoting Cycling
Probably, health benefits, are the most common observation expressed by a non-cyclist to a cyclist: Ah, doing exercise…of course, riding a bicycle is healthy physically and mentally as the body pumps oxygen to the brain. Sleeping better, for sure, as the body needs a rest after a day of commuting by bicycle. It happens with cyclists of all ages and is enjoyable, reduces stress and depression.
Workers who cycle to work are less likely to be sick than those who commute by public transport or car. Cycling keeps you fit, and the immune system gets stronger. It contributes to a healthier lifestyle, so needed in Vanuatu where so many people are dying younger due to Non-Communicable Diseases related to poor nutrition and lack of physical exercise. Cycling burns calories and prevents obesity and reduces diabetes. Only 30 minutes of cycling daily is equivalent to the recommended level of physical activity. Cycling boosts physical activity and prolongs life expectancy by up to 14 months.
Cycling can improve social cohesion, happiness and productivity
Cycling is also a social activity. Cyclists greet each other more often than car drivers. Cycling encourages positive social interactions between different road users. Commuting to work can be an enjoyable way of starting the working day, cycling makes people happier, hence boosts the motivation for a productive working day.
It is very rare to find a cyclist who dislikes riding while it is very common to find drivers who hate driving.
Cycling provides individual freedom, autonomy of movements, financial independence and flexibility – all contributors for Happiness.
If you want to see a happy child, give them a bicycle. But the government of Vanuatu needs to do their part in promoting the environmental conditions for their people to be free, happy and safe. Strategic infrastructure developments that are not necessarily expensive can make a different to allow Vanuatu to sustain and improve its Wellbeing and Happiness levels.