A new NASA-funded study of the impacts of China’s traffic restrictions for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing shows how widespread changes in transportation patterns could reduce the threat of climate change.
New research by an international team of scientists indicates that China’s restrictions on motor vehicles designed to improve air quality during the games had the side benefit of dramatically cutting emissions of carbon dioxide by between 24,000 and 96,000 metric tons.
The authors note that this reduction by a single city represents more than one-quarter of 1 percent of the emissions cut that would be necessary worldwide, on a sustained basis, to prevent the planet from heating up by more than about 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That is the amount of heating generally considered to lead to major societal impacts.
While scientists have long known that reduced traffic would lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions, precise estimates for an actual urban area are difficult to calculate. “The Beijing Olympics allowed us to actually measure what happens when people drive much less, and it turns out that it makes quite a substantial difference to our climate,” says National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Helen Worden, the lead author. “People may think their choice of how to commute to work doesn’t make a difference, whether driving their cars or riding their bikes. But on a large scale, it really does.”
The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. It was co-authored by researchers at the University of Iowa, Iowa City; the University of Tsinghua in Beijing; Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, Illinois; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
For more on the research, see the NASA press release.