Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Getting to Copenhagen

One of the ironies of the COP meetings is that bringing thousands of people from all over the world to gather together in one place is hardly the most environmentally-friendly act you can think of. So to encourage European attendees to reduce the climate impact of their journey, as well as highlighting the environmental advantages of train travel, the International Union of Railways (UIC) organised a special 'Climate Express' from Brussels to Copenhagen on 5 December.

I had a particular reason for travelling to Copenhagen by train, given that I work as the environmental adviser for the Community of European Railways, which lobbies on behalf of Europe’s railway companies in Brussels. Asides from rail industry folk, there were around 400 people on the train with me: these included senior figures such as Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice-chair of the IPCC, and Isabelle Durant a vice-president of the European Parliament. There were also plenty of NGO representatives and activists, including Lizzie Gillet and Franny Armstrong, the producer and director of The Age of Stupid, Roz Savage, a UNEP ‘climate hero’ who has rowed solo across the Atlantic, and walked all the way from London to Brussels before getting on the train, and Alison Gannett, the founder of the Save Our Snow Foundation who was easy to spot thanks to the pair of skis sticking out of her backpack.

In addition, there was an assortment of media people who were looking for their first stories of the conference, including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Associated Press, and representatives of several national UK newspapers. Somewhat bizarrely, there was even a reporter and photographer from The Sun booked to travel, but perhaps fortuitously they didn’t turn up.

Given the journey lasted most of the day, there was plenty of time to fill, so one of the coaches was set aside for a series of discussion panels on issues related to the conference. The train was also ideal for networking– with few places to hide, and only two stops en route, it was an ideal occasion to get to know many of the people on board. My particular favourite was meeting The Man In Seat Sixty-One, who has probably done more to promote international train travel in the age of the internet than any other individual. If you want to know how to get anywhere in Europe by train, then take a look at his website: getting to Copenhagen doesn’t automatically have to mean flying there.

Matthew Ledbury

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