December 07, 2009

Live From COP15: All Aboard the Climate Express

On the morning of December 5, more than 400 “EcoPassengers” boarded the CO2-free Climate Express train in Brussels with the goal of arriving in one of the lowest-carbon possible ways to the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen. Among the passengers were climate change negotiators and observers, business leaders, environmental activists and journalists. The event was organized by the International Union of Railways and co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Most of the heads of these entities were present through the 14-hour train ride, which started in Brussels and stopped in the cities of Cologne and Hamburg on the way to the Danish capital. Industry support came from Japanese railway companies and most European railway companies such as SNCF, Renfe, and Eurostar. The train ride was covered by hundreds of media outlets and was extremely successful in bringing the people to Copenhagen—as well as bringing Copenhagen to the people.

The purpose of the event was to support and encourage decision makers traveling to Copenhagen to successfully develop a treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions that would serve as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The event organizers sought to raise awareness about need to address the growing emissions coming from the transport sector in the document that comes out of Copenhagen, something that the Kyoto Protocol did not sufficiently address. To ride the talk, the journey was completely CO2-free, as the power drawn for the locomotives was entirely from renewable sources of energy. UIC calculates that if the same group of people had traveled by airplane to Copenhagen they would have produced 115kg CO2 per person.

The Climate Express offered round table and panel discussions, seminars and workshops, films and even a dance party. All these events were related to the transport sector’s influence on climate change. Some of the highlights included an opening session by Dr. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice Chair of the IPCC and Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary General and Director of UNEP. They discussed the latest scientific context related to climate change. Another highlight was The Bridging the Gap initiative panel discussion about concrete ways that the transport sector can be addressed in the current post-2012 documents of the UNFCCC negotiations. Harald Diaz from the UNFCCC Secretariat was the discussed the importance of reaching an agreement and insisted that the Secretariat must still aim to achieve a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen.

The Climate Expert Team joined the Climate Express. The team started a symbolic train journey 3 weeks ago from Kyoto through the Trans-Siberian railroad all the way to Brussels to join the train to Copenhagen. The team is bringing a key message from the rail community in the white paper entitled “Keeping Climate Change, Solutions on Track: The Role of Rail.” Other interesting groups within the train ride included the caricaturists and political satirists of “The Big Picture.” They recorded all sessions and highlights of the train ride with great humor and skill. –Ramon Cruz

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