Cop26: climate activists race from London to Glasgow

Campaigners want to discourage internal flights to cut carbon emissions

Paul Tuohy and Norman Baker from the Campaign for Better Transport set off on their race from Piccadilly Circus in London to Glasgow. Campaign for Better Transport
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Two climate campaigners embarked on a rail versus air travel race from London to Glasgow to highlight the harmful greenhouse emissions produced by aircraft ahead of the Cop26 summit.

The pair began their 643-kilometre journey at Piccadilly Circus in central London on Friday morning and called for the UK government to do more to encourage people to choose trains over planes.

The contest was organised by the Campaign for Better Transport, a group that pressures authorities to support more sustainable modes of travel.

Norman Baker, former Liberal Democrat MP and transport minister who now works with the campaign, opted for the train journey while the group’s chief executive Paul Tuohy travelled by air.

They parted ways in front of the statue of Anteros, Piccadilly's famous monument, this morning, with Mr Tuohy telling his rival: “I’ll beat you! See you there.”

Speaking to The National during his train journey to the Cop26 host city, Mr Baker said he hoped to show people the time they can save if they opt for a rail journey from London over a flight.

“We should not be taking internal flights and driving up carbon emissions,” he said.

“I want to send a message that the train is going to be as quick or possibly quicker. It’s important that people understand that.

“People say it’s only an hour and 30 minutes to fly to Glasgow but you have to go to the airport and go through security, you have to get up early and catch an early bus.

“By the time you’ve done that you would be on a train. On a train you can walk around and work.

“It’s much more civilised and less carbon intensive.”

Mr Tuohy said he wanted to use his air journey to show that flying domestically is a “climate disaster, generating seven times more harmful greenhouse emissions than the equivalent train journey.”

“Rather than making flying cheaper and rail travel more expensive as the Government is considering, it should be doing more to encourage people to travel by train to help tackle climate change,” he added.

The average train from London to Glasgow takes around four and a half hours and produces 20kgs of carbon emissions.

A flight on the same route takes one hour and 20 minutes and puts out 137kgs of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The United Nations’ climate change summit is expected to draw up to 30,000 visitors to Glasgow between October 31 and November 12.

World leaders, scientists, activists and policy makers will gather at the Scottish Event Campus to form the UN Convention of Parties on Climate Change.

Paul Tuohy and Norman Baker from the Campaign for Better Transport said they are racing to the Cop26 host city to raise awareness about the effects air travel has on the environment. Campaign for Better Transport

The international gathering is aimed at reaching an agreement about what steps need to be taken to prevent the global increase in temperature from exceeding 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

Cop26 president Alok Sharma said climate change is the biggest security risk faced by the international community.

Mr Tuohy, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, flew out from London’s Luton airport on Friday in the hope of reaching Glasgow ahead of Mr Baker.

He tweeted: “Hardly slept a wink last night ahead of today’s #trainNOTplane race to @COP26 host city Glasgow. I don't want to miss my plane!

“Norman Baker @CBTransport (train) is posturing in a very confident manner and playing mind games. Let the games commence!”

The campaign is using the event to call on the British government to do more to promote rail as the green alternative to flying to help boost rail passenger numbers and tackle climate change.

On Friday, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II and senior members of the royal family will attend a series of events during the Cop26 conference.

The monarch will be joined by Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William and Kate to carry out engagements from November 1 to 5.

Charles is a long-standing environmental campaigner and has been joined in recent years by his son William, who has established the Earthshot Prize – an award recognising innovations that “repair” the planet.

Winners of the award, a 10-year project with a total prize fund of £50 million, will be announced later this month.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 9:04 AM