Young activists debate planet’s future aboard train to COP26

Over 500 changemakers from 40 different countries will be catching a ‘Climate Train’ on October 30 from Amsterdam to Glasgow, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is taking place, in a bid to highlight the need for more sustainable travel.

‘Rail to the Cop’, a campaign led by Netherlands-based non-profit Youth for Sustainable Travel (YFST), seeks to make the climate conference more accessible, particularly for young people, while raising awareness about issues in the travel industry.

“We want to bring young people to the places where their future is decided,” said 26-year-old Rail to the Cop representative Mara de Pater from the Netherlands, ahead of the conference which runs from October 31 to November 12. “We (also) want to bring the issues in the travel industry to the international political stage.”

All aboard the Climate Train

The Climate Train, which departs Amsterdam Central Station at 08:57 on October 30, passes through Rotterdam and Brussels, with a change in London. It arrives some ten hours later in Glasgow, where thousands of delegates, including world leaders, will gather to advance climate action.

32-year-old Rail to the Cop participant Vera Hoveling © Vera Hoveling
32-year-old Rail to the Cop participant Vera Hoveling © Vera Hoveling

The train’s participants include 150 young people and more than 100 NGO representatives, as well as climate scientists, policymakers, rail industry representatives and journalists. Throughout the journey, participants will hold dialogues on the future of sustainable travel.

Among those making the journey is 32-year-old Vera Hoveling, who lives in Amsterdam and is studying for a master’s degree in computer science. She decided to take part after the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which found climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, with some trends now irreversible.

“I felt so sad and angry, and I wanted to channel that energy in something more positive, meet others that care too and go on an adventure,” she said.

A quarter of greenhouse gases

Transport accounts for more than one quarter of global greenhouse gases, and as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Second Global Sustainable Transport Conference, it is “fundamental to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.”

Rail to the Cop’s calls for action include a wish to see fewer short distance flights and greater taxes on the aviation sector, as well as the promotion of sustainable modes of transport through subsidies and support.

“We want higher ambitions and more concrete goals of the different parties when it comes to CO2 reduction within the transport sector, while simultaneously making public transport more accessible,” said Mara de Pater.

For the UN Secretary-General, current efforts to address emissions from aviation are not aligned with the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.

“Companies must start using sustainable aviation fuels now, in order to cut carbon emissions per passenger by 65 per cent by 2050,” said Mr Guterres. He also called on governments to incentivise clean transport options, and to upgrade and expand sustainable railway systems.

Sail to the Cop 

The rail journey is not the first such initiative from Youth for Sustainable Travel. In 2019, over 30 young people set sail for seven weeks across the Atlantic to raise awareness on travel at COP25 in Chile as part of Sail to the Cop (the conference was then moved to Madrid due to unrest in Chile).

26-year-old Mara de Pater aboard a ship as part of ‘Sail to the Cop’ in 2019 © Youth for Sustainable Travel
26-year-old Mara de Pater aboard a ship as part of ‘Sail to the Cop’ in 2019 © Youth for Sustainable Travel

Mara de Pater was among those aboard, and shares this tip for those wishing to travel more sustainably:

“Challenge yourself to stop flying. It’s fun and adventurous to travel over land or sea. But keep pressuring your politicians and big players in the travel sector as well, because that’s where the big changes can happen.”


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