THIS MONTH the eyes of the world will focus on Copenhagen, where leaders of more than 40 countries will convene for decisive talks on curbing carbon emissions. The pressure on the negotiators to deliver a binding agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 15, will be immense, with many factors to be considered and interests to be accommodated.

While the policy makers will need to come to a deal that addresses the broader issue of climate change, the growth in carbon emissions from transport, and the need to reduce them in the future, is likely to be one of the contributing factors debated by delegates.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), transport accounts for 23% of total worldwide CO2 emissions, and the sector will therefore be a focus for reform in any serious attempt to tackle climate change.

Keen to highlight the role rail could play in reducing transport emissions, the UIC in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme and World Wildlife Fund, has organised two symbolic events in connection with COP 15. Last month a team of environmental experts, journalists, and representatives from non-governmental organisations set off from the Japanese city of Kyoto, birthplace of the current UN Climate Change Protocol, on a rail journey to Copenhagen.

The group has travelled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway, stopping en route to meet local environmental experts, and witness the impact of climate change on the country.

The group is also carrying a Global Rail Position Paper, which is based on data gathered by national railways, and advocates modal shift from road and air to rail as a crucial step in the transition to low-carbon mobility.
UIC director general Mr Jean-Pierre Loubinoux (pictured) believes this symbolic journey has two objectives. "It will turn the spotlight on one of the challenges that must be solved by a future climate change regime - how to tackle the increasing emissions from the transport sector," he says.

"The journey from Kyoto to Copenhagen will demonstrate how to reduce emissions in this crucial sector, which until now has been neglected. Secondly, we would like to remind the decision-makers going to COP 15 that reaching a second-generation climate change agreement is of the utmost importance, and we are encouraging global leaders to be as visionary and brave as they were in Kyoto 12 years ago. That is why the UIC has joined a partnership with the UN's Seal the Deal campaign, which encourages leaders to put their obstacles and objections aside to secure our common future."

On December 5, the group will join the Climate Express, a special train from Brussels to Copenhagen organised by the UIC, which will host an on-board conference on climate change, focusing on transport.

Around 400 passengers will travel on the Climate Express for all or part of its 12-hour journey, including senior managers of major railways, environmental experts, business leaders, and climate change negotiators, with a different debate in each coach. The train will be welcomed in Copenhagen by COP 15 host Danish climate minister Mrs Connie Hedegaard, and Danish State Railways CEO Mr Søren Eriksen.

"The keys to climate change are dialogue and cooperation," explains Loubinoux. "Climate Express facilitates dialogue and cooperation between different people and organisations, and offers them conversations they might not otherwise expect to have during COP 15. This might give rise to new and much-needed creative ideas for addressing climate change."

Loubinoux accepts that land transport is unlikely to be a "hot topic" at COP 15, but he believes rail's presence is essential to demonstrate the role the industry can play in the wake of any new climate agreement. "It is far easier to speak from a distance than to be in the centre of an array of interests, each requiring everything from urgent action to understanding and special treatment," he says.

"However, we 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, and this applies to the transport sector in particular. I would like to remind the policy makers that the rail industry is at their service, and fully prepared to take responsibility as a part of the solution."