The Government needs to put walking and cycling at the centre of the planned All-of-Government Climate Plan, said a letter sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar by active travel campaigners and health groups.
The letter by Cyclist.ie — a group of cycling campaigners — has been co-signed by the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society, Diabetes Ireland, Irish Doctors for the Environment, the Association for Health Promotion Ireland, and the Irish Pedestrian Network.
Colm Ryder, chairman of Cyclist.ie, said: “When exercise is seen as an ‘extra’ that has to be fitted into busy lives on top of work, commuting, caring and other family responsibilities, it is easy to neglect. On the other hand, walking or cycling to work, school, college, shopping or to social activities offers people the opportunity to integrate physical activity into their day-to-day lives.”
In the letter, Ryder states: “We are aware that the Climate Action Plan is the responsibility of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the transport aspects will be overseen by the Minister for Transport and the health aspects by the Minister for Health.”
He added: “However, the Climate Action Plan will be a whole of Government one and, as a
qualified medical doctor, and a former Minister for both Health and Transport,
you, Taoiseach, are in a unique position to appreciate the links between active transport, physical activity and health.”
Tim Collins, CEO of Irish Heart Foundation, said: “Regular physical activity is key to achieving a healthy life, whether you are a patient or not. Higher levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with a 147 per cent increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke while Ireland’s child obesity crisis means eight-year olds are showing the signs of heart disease previously only seen in middle age.”
He added: “By merging active travel measures with climate targets, there is considerable scope to replace car journeys with walking and cycling to bring about a range of benefits for health and climate change.”
The combined groups pointed to Healthy Ireland surveys which show that the average Irish adult is not meeting the target of a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week and they said that concerns about the results of inactivity on the health of Irish children are growing.
The groups highlighted that investment in cycling by the Government amounts to less than 2% on the spending on new transport projects and points to a UN report which looks for investment of at least 20% for walking and cycling.
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They said that despite “the clear awareness” of the link between physical activity and the built environment, walking and cycling are still not being prioritised.