All aboard the Climate Express

From Brussels to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen by train

Written by Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, UIC director general

This month will be crucial for the future of humanity. World leaders from more than 65 countries and 15,000 participants will gather at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen to deliver a successor to the current climate change treaty: the Kyoto Protocol, expiring in 2012. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) stated: “COP 15 will be a turning point in the fight to prevent climate disaster, giving the opportunity now to shape our common future and that of generations to come, for the better.”
The International Union of Railways and its members are part of the cause the Train to Copenhagen project, jointly established with WWF and the United Nations Seal the Deal campaign. The aim of Train to Copenhagen is above all to support and encourage the decision-makers to deliver the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the first international effort to cut green house gas emissions.
Train to Copenhagen seeks to convey the message that the next-generation climate agreement and its supporting policies and mechanisms need to address the transport sector’s growing emissions.

Transport & emissions
The transport sector is responsible for more than 20 per cent of global CO2 emissions and is the sector with the highest emissions growth in spite of all the technological advances. Today 95 per cent of the sector depends on fossil fuel and is responsible for 60 per cent of global oil consumption. Transport energy use is predicted to be about 80 per cent higher by 2030.
Rail is one of the least polluting transport modes, producing three times fewer CO2 emissions than a car and up to ten times less emissions than an airplane. Rail needs more attention with regard to its crucial role as part of the solution. Rail is ready to play its part as the backbone of sustainable transport systems and to provide solutions that ensure that the planet can fully benefit from the potential emissions reductions offered by rail.
Train to Copenhagen is all about people and our common future. Our Campaign aims to bring people to Copenhagen and Copenhagen to the people. On 5 December a special train, the Climate Express, will bring more than 450 climate change negotiators, business leaders and environmental activists to Copenhagen. The journey will be totally CO2-free, as the drawing power is entirely from renewable sources of energy. If the same group of people flew to Copenhagen instead of taking the train, they would produce 115kg CO2 per person.
We believe the key to combating climate challenge is through dialogue and cooperation. The Climate Express brings together different people and organisations, taking different messages to COP 15. The Climate Express thus also facilitates dialogue and cooperation between these people, and offers them inspiration and interesting conversations they might not otherwise expect to have in the lead-up to COP 15. This might give rise to new and much-needed creative ideas in combating climate change.
This symbolic train journey started a month ago with the UIC Climate Change and Rail Seminar on 5 November in the Japanese city of Kyoto – the birthplace of the current Climate Change Protocol. The seminar, co-organised with the Asian railways, highlighted how transport can be part of the solution in the fight against global warming. To underline what railways have to offer, a Global Rail Position Paper is on its way, carried by a group of Climate Experts by rail via Vladivostok, Moscow, Berlin and joining the Climate Express in Brussels before continuing to Copenhagen. Based on data from international railways, the paper advocates a shift to rail from road and air, to support the transition to low-carbon mobility.
There are two ways to achieve emissions reductions generally and more specifically in the transport sector: technological improvements and behavioural change. Hard work is being carried out in the railways to continuously improve the rail product and its sustainability advantages, including its energy efficiency by upgrading existing technology and new modes of propulsion.
To support behavioural change, in addition to improved train services and management systems, the UIC has developed tools to help people make informed transport decisions, such as EcoPassenger ( and EcoTransIT ( web tools to compare the energy consumption and emissions performance of different transport modes. Aiming to be as fair as possible, EcoPassenger and EcoTransIT not only calculate the energy or the fuel needed to travel by rail, road, sea or air, but also include the energy and the emissions from the cumulative energy consumption, including the energy used to produce the electricity or the fuel, in a “well to wheel” perspective – using the best available data and a sound scientific methodology supported by the European Environment Agency.

In order for society to fully benefit from the emissions reductions, complementary and sustainable transport systems are needed, where the sustainability advantages of all transport modes are exploited in one joint system. Rail should be the backbone of these smart transport systems. To achieve this, a combination of policies and economic measures is needed as the market is distorted strongly in favour of road and aviation transport.
Achieving sustainable development in the transport sector is about much more than reducing CO2 emissions. Growth in transport brings enormous benefits to society, but also many costs – including external costs – and which we have to address. Of course, we welcome every step in the direction towards sustainable mobility and sustainable development, including for example zero-emissions cars. But what happens if everybody drives around in zero-emissions cars? Today there are one billion cars on this planet, and projections indicate that there will be three billion in the not too distant future. Where is the space for them? Challenges like parking problems, congestion and road accidents will be taken to new dimensions.
However, again, rail is a solution: rail is not only a low carbon transport mode, but also the safest transport mode with the lowest external costs.
Rail offers solutions to challenges such as time loss and congestion, urban versus regional development, by providing area-efficient transport and access to mobility for all – you do not need to own a car to travel. Further, investment in rail offers increased GDP as it reduces the amount of these external costs. Rail provides green jobs and is a “natural” part of the green economy.

Promoting rail
The messages on why and how rail is a crucial part of the solution in reducing the emissions from the transport sector will be even more important after COP 15. Realistically speaking, and even though I strongly wish it were otherwise, land transport will most probably not be a burning issue during COP 15. This, however, makes it even more crucial to be present and promote rail’s potential emissions reductions in the follow-up process to the new climate agreement and in the development of supporting policies and mechanisms etc.
UIC and its members are therefore already now planning the Train FROM Copenhagen – building on the positive response and attention we have received with the Train to Copenhagen project. The Train FROM Copenhagen will continue to target global climate policy makers, promoting the role of rail as a solution to reduce the transport sector’s CO2 emissions in the post-2012 climate regime.
With all due respect, it is far easier to speak without as an outsider than to be caught between an array of interests, each demanding anything from urgent action to understanding and special treatment. Having said this, however, we do need to see brave, strong and visionary decision-making in combating climate change. The solutions need to be scaled up to the size of the challenge, especially for the transport sector. I hope all the policy makers going to Copenhagen will bear this in mind and strongly focus on reaching an agreement there. I would also like to quote the UIC Chairman, Mr Yoshio Ishida, and remind them that the rail sector is at their service – fully prepared to take its responsibility as part of the solution.

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