DAVOS JOURNAL: Train, not plane, it’s landscape, carbon cut


DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — If you’re coming to Davos this year, try to take the train instead of flying, organizers at the World Economic Forum said.

So I did.

That meant a 12-hour trip from London to the exclusive gathering in the Swiss Alps, which I help cover for The Associated Press.

Taking a train is far less convenient than flying, but the scenery has made up for it – the rolling farm fields of England and France have given way to the towering mountains of Switzerland and idyllic valleys dotted with chalets. And my carbon footprint will be much lower than a flight.

For many, Davos conjures up images of government leaders, billionaire elites and corporate titans jumping into carbon-spewing private planes even as the meeting shifts its focus to climate change.

Organizers have been stung by such criticism, even devoting a webpage in recent years to debunking such claims. Encouraging European attendees to come by train is part of their effort to bolster the event’s sustainability credentials amid criticism, it’s merely a talking shop that doesn’t produce systemic change.

I am not the first to take the train. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took a 32-hour train ride to the Davos meeting in 2019, where she stunned attendees with a fiery speech. I’m also riding a wider wave of traveler interest in rail travel on short-haul flights linked to climate guilt.

My journey begins at London’s St. Pancras International station, where I board the high-speed Eurostar which takes me through a Channel Tunnel to Paris in about two and a half hours. There, I take a short subway ride to another station for the next four-hour leg to Zurich.

By plane, I would have been crammed into a discounted flight from London Gatwick airport for the hour and 40 minute flight to Zurich, the nearest airport to Davos.

But for those who don’t live in Europe, a plane trip is unavoidable. And to expedite my journey after days of back-to-back speeches by government leaders and sessions on decarbonization, the global economic outlook, and the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine, this is how I will return home.

On board the French TGV, first-class seats are comfortable and spacious, and the view from the upper deck offers pleasant scenes of the countryside zipping by at 320 kilometers per hour (around 200 mph).

If I had flown, my 870 kilometer journey would have emitted up to 197 kilograms (434 pounds) of carbon dioxide per passenger into the atmosphere.

The same train journey would contribute a fraction of that amount – 12.2 kilograms, according to ecopassenger.org.

World Economic Forum officials say climate is a priority for this year’s meeting and tout its green credentials.

“The overwhelming majority of attendees arrive by shuttle bus or train, and emissions in Davos actually decrease during the week of the meeting,” forum chief executive Adrian Monck told reporters ahead of the event, without giving further details. details.

The organizers claim to have offset 100% of the carbon emissions of the group’s activities since 2017 by supporting environmental projects in Switzerland and elsewhere. Experts say offsets can be problematic because there is no guarantee they will reduce emissions.

The forum can also provide sustainable jet fuel at Zurich Airport for those taking private jets.

“It’s probably one of the most enduring meetings in the world, if not the most enduring,” Monck said.

High-level participants include US climate envoy John Kerry, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate and Alok Sharma, head of last year’s UN climate conference, COP26.

Kerry, who has come under fire for using a private jet owned by his wife’s family, will travel by commercial plane to the Davos meeting, his spokesman said.

Sharma, a British lawmaker who attracted attention last year for his frequent flights, will travel by plane and train.

“Carbon emissions associated with the COP President’s travel will be offset for the year of the presidency,” the UK government said, without providing further details.

Nakate declined to comment on his trip.

Aviation accounts for around 2% of global carbon emissions.

The World Economic Forum has recognized that “from an environmental point of view, taking a private jet is the worst way to get to Davos”.

Private jets emit about 10 times more carbon dioxide per person than commercial flights and about 50 times more than an equivalent train journey, said Jo Dardenne, head of aviation at the climate policy group Transport & Environment based in Brussels.

Jet engines also spew soot and nitrous oxide, which contribute to pollution around airports and heat-trapping atmospheric contrails, she said.

Sustainable jet fuel is a step in the right direction, the source said, but carbon offsetting deserves more skepticism due to concerns such as double counting, she said.

“It is particularly socially and politically unfair for some sectors to continue to rely on offsetting instead of actually reducing their emissions,” while others face pressure to reduce their climate impact, Dardenne said.

Eymeric Segard, CEO of Swiss private jet charter company LunaJets, said some VIPs had no choice but to fly private.

“Because of their visibility and the fact that everyone knows them, they just can’t fly commercially,” he said.

“Some do not have three weeks free to take sailboats to cross the Atlantic like our friend Greta. So what is the alternative? »

Segard declined to discuss the demand he is seeing for trips to Davos, but said his company, which acts as a taxi dispatcher for private jets, is trying to reduce carbon emissions by looking for “flights to empty”, which have already been chartered but no longer have places.

Not only is it cheaper, but “the planet is happy because the plane was going to fly anyway, so at least we put someone on it,” he said.

From Zurich main station I change again, this time to a slower local train. This is where most people can’t avoid the train when heading to Davos, which has no airport, unless they take a shuttle bus or helicopter from Zurich or two other small nearby airports.

Fashionably dressed people carrying expensive-looking luggage boarded, telling others which signs they were part of in Davos.

The train runs along Lake Zurich and heads towards the mountains. After another quick change at a local station, I’m on my last hour, and the scenery is getting more impressive with every kilometer.

The narrow-gauge train traverses steep valleys and skirts white-water rivers, dwarfed by forested peaks with chalets scattered on grassy lower slopes until arriving at Davos. Here my trip ends but my work for the week begins.


Kelvin Chan is an AP business writer in London. Follow him on http://twitter.com/chanman.

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