Sunday, April 2, 2023

Davos Diary: Train, Plane Mean Not Scenery, Carbon Cutting

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

So I did.

That meant traveling 12 hours from London to the special gathering in the Swiss Alps, which I’m helping cover for the Associated Press.

It’s far less convenient to take a train than a plane, but the scenery made up for it – the rolling farm fields of England and France gave way to the high mountains of Switzerland and the idyllic valleys dotted with chalets. and my carbon footprint Would be much less than a single flight.

For many, Davos conjures up images of government leaders, billionaire elites and corporate titans in carbon-spewing private planes, even as the meeting increasingly focuses on climate change.,

Organizers have been baffled by such criticism, even dedicating a webpage To refute those claims in previous years. Encouraging European participants to come by train is part of their efforts to burnish the event’s sustainability credentials amid criticism that it is simply a talking shop that does not produce systemic change.

I am not the first person to board the train. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took a 32-hour train ride to get to the Davos meeting in 2019, where she stunned participants with a fiery speech. I’m riding the widespread wave of passenger interest in train trips on short-haul flights linked to climate crime.

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

By plane, I would have pressed on a discount flight from Gatwick Airport in London to Zurich, the nearest airport to Davos, a flight of hours and 40 minutes.

But for those who don’t live in Europe, plane rides are inevitable. And after back-to-back speeches from government leaders and sessions about decarbonization, the global economic outlook, and the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine, I will travel home like this.

On the French high-speed TGV train, first class seats are comfortable and spacious and the upper deck view offers pleasant views of the countryside at speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour (about 200 mph).

If I were to fly, my 870-kilometer journey would have emitted 197 kg (434 lb) of carbon dioxide per passenger into the atmosphere.

According to, the same journey by train would contribute a fraction of that amount – 12.2 kilograms.

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

“The overwhelming majority of participants come by shuttle or train, and emissions in Davos actually go down during the week of the meeting,” explained Forum Managing Director Adrian Monk.

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

Forum can also provide sustainable jet fuel for private jet takers at Zurich’s airport.

“This is probably one of the most sustainably held meetings in the world, if not the most sustainable,” Monk said.

High-profile attendees 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 been criticized for using a private jet belonging to his wife’s family, will travel by commercial plane to the Davos meeting, his spokesman said.

British MP Sharma, who faced criticism for his frequent flights last year, will travel by plane and train.

“The carbon emissions associated with the visit of the COP President will be offset for the Presidency year,” the UK government said, without providing further details.

Nakate declined to comment on his visit.

Aviation accounts for about 2% of global carbon emissions.

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

Private jets carry about 10 times the carbon dioxide per capita of commercial flights and about 50 times more than an equivalent train journey, said Joe Darden, aviation manager at Brussels-based climate policy group Transport and Environment.

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

Sustainable jet fuel, depending on the source, is a step in the right direction, but carbon offsetting deserves more doubt because of concerns like double counting, she said.

“It’s especially a bit socially and politically unfair for some regions to continue to rely on offsetting rather than actually reducing their emissions,” Darden said, while others need to reduce their climate impact. pressure has to be faced.

Aymeric Segaard, CEO of Swiss private jet chartering company LunaJets, said some VIPs have no choice but to fly private.

“Because of their visibility and the fact that everyone knows them, they can’t just take a commercial plane,” he said.

“Some don’t have three weeks to get a sailboat to cross the Atlantic like our friend Greta. So what is the alternative?”

Segard declined to discuss how much demand he is seeing for travel to Davos, but said his company, which acts as a taxi dispatcher for private jets, is looking for “empty-legged flights”. Seeking to reduce carbon emissions, which are already chartered but have additional seats.

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’s main train station, I change again, this time on a slower local train. This is where most people can’t avoid the rail as they go to Davos, which doesn’t have an airport, unless they take a shuttle or helicopter from Zurich or two other smaller airports.

Fashion-dressed men carrying expensive-looking goods came aboard, telling others which panel they were part of in Davos.

The train crosses Lake Zurich and heads into the mountains. After another quick turnaround at a local station, I’m down for my final hour, and the scenery gets more impressive with each mile.

The narrow-gauge train runs along steep valleys and white-water rivers, covered with forested peaks scattered on the grassy lower slopes, until reaching Davos. Here my journey ends but my work for the week begins.


Calvin Chan is Associated Press Business Writer in London. follow him,


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