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Cycling to achieve carbon neutrality by target year 2030

File Photo Manipur Cycle Club Members Photo Akee Sorokhaibam

It is not too late for the Manipur Government to re-work the street design for “Imphal Smart City” to accommodate adequate space for bicycle riders specifically in the city area, given the context that the Government is in the process of widening the major roads and streets in the greater Imphal area to ease the traffic.

By Salam Rajesh

It does look like a huge uphill task to achieve carbon neutrality by the target year 2030 as was set by the United Nations in important global forums such as the Paris Climate summit and the Glasgow conference last year, even as this very topic was discussed several times in the preceding years – from Kyoto to Aichi to Kunming.

The streets in Denmark and Sweden are being redesigned to have dedicated cycle lanes in encouraging residents to give up motorized travels and go for the environment-friendly bicycles. Social media posts are littered with video postings of Danes cycling merrily to work and for leisure.

In Manipur, up to the late 1980s school and college going students scurried on their bicycles to reach their classes well in time. The college campuses were jam packed with bicycles, sometimes overflowing the bicycle-sheds. It was neither fashion nor status to roll out a bicycle, it was dire necessity.

The 1990s saw a break from the bicycle trend. The motorbikes made their entry and even girl students started going to college on their scooters. The bicycle-sheds gave place to the motorbikes.

The Manipur Vision 2047 document does talk of achieving carbon neutrality in the State by the target year 2047, although it is not clear how the goal is to be achieved, given the current scenario of unregulated increase in vehicular traffic and the volume of inflow of second-hand motor vehicles – legally or illegally.

The vision document talks of strengthening the infrastructural buildup in the greater Imphal City areas, with outlining the needs for Ring Roads to cater to the increase volume of heavy traffic. Whereas, until now the street designing for both national and state highways do not have space for cycles and pedestrians, plus the safety patch that should be there in important motorways.

Cycling to work and for leisure is being promoted worldwide for two basic reasons – one, to achieve certain level of carbon neutrality by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and limiting carbon footprints, and two, to encourage health and hygiene. In between, of course, is the push for environment friendly measures to reduce the impact of urban heat domes, which is also attributed as one of the reasons for inducing heat waves in urban areas.

Somewhere down the line, it apparently became a sort of social ‘look-down’ on those plying bicycles or tri-cycles, something unnaturally developed at the social structure creating a divide between the haves and the have-nots. So, a boy riding an expensive motorcycle to college would be flaunting his social status over those riding the non-polluting bicycles.

Bicycles obviously have been sidelined by the state planners, so much so as the absence of bicycle lanes in street designing shows. In the present setting, bicycle riders share the same space as the fast driving cars and the heavy lorries, which indicate the level of danger for the bicycle riders.

Why has the Danish Government given so much of space to the bicycle riders? The redesigned streets have specialized lanes especially for the bicycle riders, separating these from the space given for motor cars. The risk to accident is almost zero, and everyone riding a bicycle to work or to school can enjoy a risk-free ride. The suggestion does go back to climate change issues, too.

The UN is pushing the global leaders to take urgent decisions in tackling the climate change issues, more specifically the issue on global temperature rise and the call to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius by the target year 2030.

Phenomenal events of extreme weather and climate incidents are happening all over the world, with cases after cases being reported in almost all of the continents. Many parts of the world reported, or are reporting, extreme events of wildfires that have ravaged forests, homes and properties in large scale. Many more regions are reporting extreme cases of heat waves, killing hundreds of people.

Both natural and anthropogenic climate change events are being stated as the reasons for the phenomenal and unprecedented climate events – from wildfires, heat waves, cold waves, droughts, floods, cloudbursts, and cyclonic storms – in recent years. And as the UN chief Antonio Guterres recently barked out to world leaders, the “world is headed for collective suicide”!

This writer attended class in University riding his original made-in-Germany Humber bicycle, flush with energy with the near twelve-kilometer ride each day. In those days (in the late 1980s) there was nothing about that ‘social status’ stigma. Many students rode bicycles, even those from affluent families. The joy and thrill of bicycle ride was there definitely.

The Government of India is now contemplating the scrapping of aged motor vehicles, as those that are 15 years or more. This policy re-looks at the need to curb on polluting vehicles, more particularly commercial vehicles, to limit fossil fuel burning and carbon emissions. Scandinavian countries have already announced deadlines for off-limiting all petrol and diesel operated motor vehicles from their highways by the year 2025 and 2030.

India as a developing country had a large population of people riding bicycles in the 1980s and 1990s. Rural communities still use bicycles as a cheap and convenient means of transport. In the modern language, the return of the bicycle is looked as an option available to combat climate change impacts.

It is not too late for the Manipur Government to re-work the street design for “Imphal Smart City” to accommodate adequate space for bicycle riders specifically in the city area, given the context that the Government is in the process of widening the major roads and streets in the greater Imphal area to ease the traffic.

Promotion of bicycle rides, which former minister Karam Shyam did demonstrate fairly, is looking at the call of the world community to find ways to adapt to the climate change issue by reducing the carbon footprints at the grassroots effectively. Inserting a component into the Manipur Vision 2047 document can do wonders for the State, in terms of achieving carbon neutrality meaningfully to some extent – at least.

 (The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])

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