Rail is the ‘right choice’ to tackle climate change

Mohamed Mezghani argues public transport, no matter how short or long your journey, must be part of the future

The UK's first hydrogen train departs Glasgow station for Cop26

The UK's first hydrogen train departs Glasgow station for Cop26
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Over the closing days of Cop26, Mohamed Mezghani, the Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), will participate in the climate action talks in Glasgow, Scotland, advocating for his sector as a major solution to the crisis our planet faces. Through events, meetings, interviews and appearances, the voice of public transport will be heard – and it begins with Mohamed Mezghani’s own journey by rail from Paris to Glasgow, where he shares his thoughts on the path ahead… in Glasgow, and beyond.

I travelled by train to an event for my job. That may not sound like something so particular to highlight, but when your job is to advocate for public transport, and the event you are going to is the Conference of Parties (COP) then it can suddenly feel much more important.

The truth is, travelling anywhere by train (or bus, metro , tram and more…) should not be breaking news. But at UITP, we know that we need to keep making the case for getting people to leave the car at home (or chose not to jump on the plane) by showing them the value of public transport. It’s not always easy. But the tasks worth it never are…Value is actually a key word here.

Public transport brings economical, societal, health and environmental advantages to our way of life. As I jumped aboard the train from my home in Paris, setting off for London, and then Glasgow, I don’t do this just because it’s part of my job. I do this because I am doing what is best for myself, those around me and our planet. It’s a trip of enjoyment for me.

Heading to Cop26 in Glasgow by several sustainable modes of transport is the right thing to do. It’s not for show – it’s for our planet.

Going to the Cop26 is like doing an annual trip to a location (changing every year) of great hope…the gathering place of decarbonisation, if you will! A place where everyone who believes in the need to reduce carbon emissions would like to visit. It has been attracting thousands of people every year since the very first edition in Bonn, Germany in 1995.

But there are many interpretations of the best way to reach the objective. There are those who preach about climate, but don't act. Those who know very well the dogma but don't know or don't want to apply it. Those who are part of their delegation every year but are absent from the conversation the entire year through. Those who ‘blah blah blah’, to quote Greta Thunberg, and those who spend their life without any consideration to these issues, but by a surge of wisdom decide to dedicate the rest of their life to the cause without being clear if they do it by conviction or by calculation.

Luckily there are those you will see and meet at any and all Cops, of all ages and backgrounds, who walk the talk. Those who know the risks of climate change and not only consider decarbonisation as vital but see the wider benefits it may bring beyond climate change. Those who put people at the heart and not any industrial, commercial, or political interests. Those who rely on science which demonstrates that their approach is the right one for all.

Actually, the Glasgow gathering is my second Cop. I attended the previous one in Madrid in 2019. Because of the coronavirus pandemic there was no Cop in 2020. At the start of the pandemic, we heard statements that climate change is not an urgent issue anymore because the focus must be on fighting the virus. But this crisis has taught us the opposite: we need to decarbonise more than ever if we want a healthy life. In the field of urban mobility, a business-as-usual scenario would lead to a gridlock of cities, to more road accidents, social exclusion and inequalities, and many more negative consequences on people.

I don’t just attend Cop – I participate. It’s a chance for me to make real human connections with people (like you can do when travelling on public transport, may I add!). I meet UITP members, I meet external stakeholders who share our visions, and I meet those who may not necessarily see the future from our approach, but when the future matters so much, you need to be willing to speak to all sides.

In this Cop we'll advocate for a different model for our cities where mobility is defined from the perspective of people, where technology is a tool to serve them and not an end in itself, and where sustainability is approached based on its three pillars: Society, Economy and Environment.

I look forward to seeing and engaging with everyone from all backgrounds because dialogue is key. It's the only way to increase awareness. The Cop is an influence war but each party uses its own weapons: science, money, business, communication, lobbying, advocacy, power, humanitarian action and common sense…

As I made my journey on the train from my home to Glasgow, I see what a trip like this allows me. It allows me time to engage, read, write, think. For those who would say that taking a train across several hours is not the right choice for all – I would say, where else would you get this time? Travelling by public transport is worth it. It’s time well spent. And this time is giving back to the planet. Who can find fault in that? If you are truly serious about saving our planet – the time for action is now. And public transport – no matter how short or long your journey may be, must be part of that conversation. I will be spending my time in Glasgow talking and walking the walk.

We’ll not give up because what UITP, our members, and the public transport sector fight for is good for all of us.

Updated: November 09, 2021, 7:26 PM