By rail to the climate summit: ‘The people on this train, they will make the difference’

Rotterdam, Saturday 30 October, 7.55 am. Singer-songwriter Florian Wolff plays in the hall of Central Station. His voice echoes through the empty hall.

Discussions with mouth cap on

Only on platform 2 is it very busy. About 500 people are getting ready to travel by train to the United Kingdom. There is a train from Amsterdam, via Rotterdam, to London twice a day, but this is a special one, an extra one.

Sixteen carriages, filled only with committed young people, NGOs such as Milieudefensie and a small group of people from the business community. This Eurostar runs separately from the timetable and has been set up by the Youth for Sustainable Travel, Eurostar, ProRail and the NS, among others.

During the journey, passengers are given the opportunity to do workshops, enter into discussions throughout the train and even simulate the climate summit itself in one of the compartments. Everyone joins in for this, the heads go together – but with a mouth mask in front.

ASN Bank will be one of the first to kick off the program with a workshop on sustainable financing.

‘Now protect human rights’

The bank wants to be climate positive by 2030, i.e. remove more greenhouse gases from the air than the bank’s investments and investments collectively emit. ASN also took that as its starting point: how to tempt governments to make uncertain but sustainable investments?

Raki Ap, a political refugee, ex-military and climate activist, will also talk to a number of young people. Deforestation worldwide is at the expense of people and animals, he tells them. “Because the developed countries need more soy, want to mine more. That’s a story I have to tell over and over again. Protect the human rights of the indigenous peoples.”

Liset Meddens finds it incredibly inspiring that it is young people who have managed to get this trip and this program off the ground. “All voluntarily, next to their studies or job. It’s unbelievable how they managed that.”

Make the difference

As director of Fossielvrij NL, Meddens focuses on institutional investors to keep them from investing in the fossil fuel industry. In that sense, she has had a satisfying week. ABP, the largest Dutch pension fund, announced this week that it would stop all investments in oil, gas and coal companies.

At the climate summit, she mainly hopes for concrete solutions to climate problems. And those solutions don’t just have to be developed in the Scottish city, she thinks. “So much more is needed for that. The people on this train, they will really make the difference.”

It is now in the afternoon. London St. Pancras was the terminal station for the Eurostar, where the travelers were received with an orchestra and six flag wavers. After a short walk – or ‘wellness walk’, to keep it fun – the journey continues from London Euston.

In a way, that walk symbolizes the challenges you face if you want to travel to Frankfurt or Copenhagen by train, for example. Yes, the track is there, but that’s about all. That should be easier, according to many of the organizers of this Rail to the COP.

“We want to send a signal at the top with this train,” says Ans Rietstra, deputy CEO at ProRail. “Make railways more important, more stringent, give it a greater role. Then you can take sustainable action, also to accelerate with the Paris goals in mind.”

Better connection in Europe

You can still travel to Berlin and Paris by train, but Milan is so much more difficult, she says. “A lot of countries find it difficult to look beyond their own borders when it comes to train transport. That mindset must be more European; the train systems must connect better with each other.”

She is supported by CDA MEP Wim van de Camp. “Countries such as Germany, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom should focus on better train connections. And on better ticket systems, because booking an international ticket is quite difficult compared to booking a ticket with EasyJet.”

Competition from air traffic still affects the train, argues Rietstra. Airline tickets are not taxed, train tickets are. That while every plane flying from Amsterdam to London emits as much CO2 as 7 trains on the same route. And in those trains, many more people can travel than in an airplane.

Especially if the train is fully booked, as is the case for the last part of the journey to Scotland. The first thing the hundreds of young people hear when they get out are the sounds of bagpipes. It doesn’t take long before they follow the kilt-kilted bagpiper, chanting: ‘What do we want? Climate Action! When do we want it? NOW!’

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