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Walking – a simple solution to a big problem?

On Cities, Regions & Built Environment Day at COP26, Kate Conto, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at the Ramblers, explains why walking can help the UK meet its climate goals.

During COP26, we’ve heard a lot about technological solutions that can help us tackle climate change. The climate challenges are huge and will take a wide range of approaches from every sector, to contribute towards reducing our carbon emissions. While new technologies are undoubtedly exciting, and much needed, we mustn’t overlook the potential of more simple solutions – like walking.

Walking can help the UK meet its climate goals in two important ways. First, as the most sustainable and accessible form of transport, walking can help to reduce car dependency and subsequent emissions. Around a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions currently come from transport, so it’s now more vital than ever to get people walking, particularly for short journeys.

The second way that walking can help us to tackle climate change is by encouraging urban greening. To increase numbers of people walking, we need to create better places to walk and evidence shows that adding natural features to streets and public spaces is a key way to attract people to explore on foot. Of course, this also brings potential for mitigating the effects of climate change; for example, by cooling the urban environment and soaking up intense rainfall. Put simply, a walkable city is a green and more climate resilient city.

The Ramblers have a vision that seeks to bring together these two aims of getting more people walking and greening the urban environment. We are calling for every city in England to have a network of green routes that combine attractive natural features - such as open spaces, trees, plantings or riversides - with infrastructure that enables walking, including paths and pavements that are sufficiently wide, have reduced traffic flow or speed, safe crossings, clear signs and link up to form a coherent network.

High quality, easy to follow walking routes could enable everyone to explore cities on foot without losing sight of nature, providing residents, commuters and visitors alike a more welcoming, safer and enjoyable way of experiencing urban environments. Along with urban cooling and flood mitigation, a network of green routes will also create more space for nature to thrive and help link together fragmented urban habitats to allow for the movement of wildlife, which is essential for a healthy natural environment.

And the more people get out and enjoy the nature around them, the more they care about it and for it. These aren’t new, shiny technologies, or flagship infrastructure projects – but we need government to put their support behind the little steps that everyone can take.

Kate Conto, Senior policy and advocacy officer, the Ramblers

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.