Overview of the "Climate Train"

The world’s climate is changing due to emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities - chiefly Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel burning. There is a risk that this greenhouse warming effect may be amplified by physical and biogeochemical climate feedback processes, threatening the future existence of all life on this planet. This is a global problem greater than any other in human history, not only because the natural processes are so large-scale and complicated, but because it is so closely intertwined with the economics and politics of human society. The amount of fossil fuel each country burns is well correlated to its own economic growth, yet the resulting greenhouse effect is shared globally throughout the atmosphere. There are solutions, but they will not be implemented without a global and equitable political agreement. The main forum for achieving such an agreement is the United Nations Climate Convention (UNFCCC), and its "Third Conference of the Parties" (COP3) held in Kyoto December 1997 was expected to be a key event in this process. Thousands of people attended from all countries of the world; diplomats, politicians, scientists, business people, journalists, and representatives of many campaigning organisations.

However most of the delegates at this great conference flew to Kyoto, and the emissions of greenhouse gases from their aircraft contributed significantly to the problem that the convention was intended to solve. It is important that people who are really concerned about climate change attend such conventions, but if we wish others to believe that we are serious, we have to show that we are willing to change our lifestyles to minimise our own greenhouse gas emissions. A journey from Europe to Japan by train and boat instead of flying results in about one third of the CO2 emissions and one eighth of the total greenhouse warming effect created by an equivalent journey by air (these calculations will be explained later). Therefore a group of thirty-six environmental scientists and campaigners from fourteen countries made this long journey together by train, boat and bicycle to Kyoto, and we called ourselves the "Climate Train".

Travelling from Europe through Siberia and China to Japan, we experienced a rich diversity of climate, ecology, scenery, culture, lifestyle and language, which helped us to appreciate the complexity of reaching a global agreement to share our common atmosphere which knows no national borders. But the "Climate Train" was much more than just a journey. It was itself a mobile conference, and we organised meetings with many local scientists, environmental campaigners, politicians and media along the route. News of our journey also reached millions of people through the international media, and thus helped to raise public awareness of climate change and to make a connection between the abstract UN convention and people’s individual lifestyles. The whole Climate Train project therefore had four distinct tasks, which are defined below:

The first task was to enable people concerned about climate change to participate in the Climate Convention in Kyoto, whilst minimising the contribution of our travel to the problem we are trying to solve - principally emissions of greenhouse gases. The chapters of this report "Ecobalance of the Climate Train" and "Climate Train Contribution to the COP" help to evaluate both our impact on the real atmosphere and on the climate negotiations.

Our second task was to encourage a discussion of local issues related to global climate change at our conferences en route in Moscow, Novosibirsk and Beijing. Although Siberia and China play important roles in the global climate system, climate issues do not yet have such a high profile in these regions in comparison with western Europe or Japan, so it is important to raise awareness locally of the possible impacts and opportunities for mitigation. The chapter of the report "Climate meetings with local people along the route" describes how we helped to achieve this.

Our third task was to provide an opportunity, through workshops and seminars on the journey, for participants from various countries and backgrounds to work together to plan activities at the Convention and parallel events in Kyoto. The chapter "Life on the Climate Train" describes our experience of such mobile workshops. By travelling together we also hoped to build partnerships for future co-operation., as discussed in the chapter on "Future Projects".

Our fourth task was to help raise public awareness of climate issues in the critical two weeks just before the Kyoto Convention, by providing a good "story" for the media in many countries. Our Climate Train helped to make a connection between the international climate negotiations which seem very ‘abstract’ to many people, and the role of individual people’s lifestyles and specific local emissions and impacts.The chapter on "Media Coverage" illustrates how we met the high demand for such a connection.

By compiling this report, I hope not only to evaluate how we achieved these tasks, to record the many varied events of the "Climate Train" and to do justice to the efforts of so many people who helped to make the project happen, but also to bring back some good memories for those who participated and to inspire others to build on our success. Although it may seem like a long journey,we were actually so busy during those six weeks that we had little time to reflect then on our unique experiences. Now we can try to use this experience to encourage others to travel more sustainably and to work together to save our climate. As we need to reach many people, not only those who are already familiar with the problem of greenhouse warming, the report begins by introducing a little of the science and politics of global climate change.

Ben Matthews

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