On board the climate express

Al Jazeera followed diplomats and activists taking a carbon-free route to Copenhagen.


    Organisers said the train journey was entirely carbon-free [Liz Dunningham]

    Thousands of people are arriving in Copenhagen, Denmark, for crucial negotiations on climate change.

    But few of those can be as proud of their journey's carbon footprint as those arriving bleary-eyed on Saturday night after 12 hours on the Climate Express – a train from Brussels to Copenhagen.

    in depth

    The organisers say the train journey was entirely carbon free - with all the electricity powering the train coming from renewable sources.

    About 400 people took the special train, including high level European and UN representatives, as well as activists, lobbyists, non-governmental organisations and media.

    The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) calculates that, by not flying, 97 tonnes of carbon were saved in total.

    That's the equivalent of the average annual carbon footprint of 10 Europeans. 

    Climategate scandal

    The "eco-passengers" took part in seminars and debates highlighting the issues at stake in Copenhagen and bringing a message to climate policy makers and world leaders to "keep on the right track" towards securing an ambitious and binding climate deal.

    Activists, lobbyists, NGO's and media all boarded the eco train [Liz Dunningham]
    One key event on board the train, with the head of the UN's environment programme Achim Steiner, saw inevitable questions about "Climategate" - the scandal involving hacked emails from scientists who've been providing key data on manmade climate change.

    Steiner said he was disappointed so much attention had been paid to the content of a few of the emails rather than the fact the emails had been stolen in the first place.

    "I think it should be called Hackersgate and we should get on with what is actually on the agenda which is the summit in Copenhagen, and not to fall for these tactics, just a few days before the summit to steal emails and try and rubbish the scientists rather than focusing on the science," he said.

    Steiner also told Al Jazeera that he thought the summit had been given real impetus by the announcement Barack Obama, the US president, would attend in the final days.

    "It means it's a premise to a deal, the US has put the first offer on the table [on reductions] which is a floor below which it won't go, it doesn't mean other measures can't be negotiated in Copenhagen."

    Also on board was Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose reports are one of the main sources on climate change science for the policy makers.

    In an interview with Al Jazeera, he said he thought any deal at Copenhagen would only be one step on the path to curbing the effects of carbon emissions.

    He also defended the scientists at the heart of the "Climategate" scandal, saying: "I haven't seen any evidence of manipulation of data and I have every confidence that when the inquiry is done, they will come back saying that nothing significantly wrong was made."

    'Selfish generation'

    As the day turned to night, the activities on board the Climate Express moved from education to entertainment but the message was the same.

    Achim Steiner believes Obama's presence will give the summit impetus [Liz Dunningham]
    A group of young Indian activists interpreted through dance and music the potential death of humanity, and filmmaker Fanny Armstrong showed her film about climate change, the Age of Stupid.

    The stupid in the title refers to how the people of the future will look back on a selfish generation which didn't act to curb emissions.

    Travelling by train is definitely one way to curb those emissions.

    It does depend on the type of train, but high speed trains in France, for example, which travel between cities in less than half the time it would take to drive, emit less than a fifth of the carbon emitted by flying the same distance.

    Clearly taking the train normally takes a lot longer than flying but for some that's counteracted by the advantages.

    Symbolic gesture

    Margrethe Sagevik told Al Jazeera she had made the journey by rail all the way from Kyoto in Japan to "to make a symbolic low-carbon link between the first generation global climate change agreement and what will hopefully be the outcome of COP15 in Copenhagen".

    She said that she had met many wonderful people on her journey, which included the Trans-Siberian Express across Russia.

    Not only was taking the train a low-carbon option, she said, but it also gave people to the opportunity to interact and come together – in the same way the leaders at Copenhagen should come together to make a deal.

    Realistically the Climate Express is a symbolic gesture, as most of those arriving will fly back, and let's face it, any summit on this scale has an enormous carbon footprint.

    But nevertheless any action sufficient to halt the potential temperature rise will have to include a massive rethink on how we transport ourselves, and our goods, in the future.


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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