Mountains, glaciers and deserts – 10,000 people taking Cop27 baton from UK to Egypt

Challenge will see runners, cyclists and sailors taking part in world’s longest relay race

Tom Kingston hands over the Cop27 relay baton to Huw Selly in the Derbyshire Peak District. The National
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In a valley in the north of England, surrounded by Derbyshire’s formidable peaks, it is hard to imagine the moment the historic Cop27 climate change baton will arrive in the dry, hot climes of Egypt.

But the chalice is travelling more than 7,700 kilometres, tackling terrains from mountains to glaciers to arrive in Sharm El Sheikh in time for Cop27 next month.

Its journey started in Glasgow, the venue for Cop26, last week and will travel all day and night in the hands of more than 10,000 runners, cyclists and sailors across 18 countries through areas affected by climate change.

Carrying a meaningful message from British youngsters, written in English and Arabic, it will be presented to organisers in November, when the world’s longest baton relay race will finish.

The National caught up with Leeds Royal Infirmary medic, Huw Selly, who travelled with his family to take part in an 11km stretch in Castleton, at the heart of the Peak District.

Racing alongside him through the rugged countryside, as the unforgiving British weather decided to rain, we asked him why he had decided to take part.

“My daughter is really into saving the planet and climate change," Mr Selly said. "It’s really important for her and I want to support her and show her we can all take a stand and do our bit.

“This is the chance to take part in a moment of history and get to highlight some really important causes.”

The National ran a 5km stretch holding the baton, and it brought home the reality of how running or cycling while holding it will be tricky for those tackling the more challenging sections of the journey.

It has been the job of Running Out of Time’s operations director Hetty Key to organise the logistics of such a feat.

How do conduct a relay race across mountains, glaciers and deserts?

“It has been a logistical nightmare,” Ms Key told The National. “It has been a year in the planning and finally we get to see it to fruition.

"Everybody has really got behind it, from schoolchildren to environmentalists. We have chosen routes that will pass through areas greatly affected by climate change.

“We are plotting the most direct route as feasibly possible by human power. The water courses are the most exciting parts. We had to look at so many different options but were adamant not to use fossil fuels.

"We have looked at swimming, using pedalos to wind power. We have some incredible sailors getting involved.

“I had to plot the route and co-ordinate various water courses incorporating hundreds of different climate change projects and at-risk locations.

"We wanted to show the incredible work being done and highlight the impact of climate change.

“We have allocated more time to the hot areas. The desert will be strange and there will be tricky patches in the more remote hilly sections of Bosnia, and when we cross Germany to Italy you have the Alps.”

Mayors from Greece and Albania will each row a boat to pass the baton on

At one stage, dignitaries from Greece and Albania will row to the middle of Lake Prespa — a major global biodiversity hotspot threatened by climate change due to the drop in water levels — to hand over the baton.

Another will be when it travels passed the Stubai glacier in Austria. Two thirds of it are under a protective order and scientists have been using revolutionary mesh to try to stop it from melting.

“When we take it passed the glaciers there is really shocking visual evidence of what’s happening right in front of our eyes. You can literally see the impact,” Ms Key said.

“In Greece we will be highlighting the forest fires, we will then end in Athens where it will be passed to a boat to take it to Cyprus. On one stretch one official will ride on horseback. All the efforts people are going to is incredibly inspiring to see.”

The National’s Nicky Harley and Yorkshire medic Huw Selly run an 11km section of the Cop27 baton relay in Castleton, Derbyshire. The National

Taking 38 days and nights, it is the longest non-stop relay ever attempted.

“It’s taken a huge collaborative effort to get this ambitious project to the start line,” Running Out of Time co-founder Jamie Hay said.

"Our aim is to deliver a powerful message to the decision makers at Cop27 with so much support that it is impossible to ignore if we’re to have a hope of securing a transition to a safe climate future.

"Running Out of Time symbolises the very essence of climate action. It’s an extraordinary, bold, ambitious plan that will only succeed because everyone has worked together.”

The baton is travelling through Scotland, Wales, England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt — arriving at Sharm El Sheikh on November 5 in time for Cop27, which starts on November 6.

Amanda Skeldon with children from the Buxworth Primary School. Photo: Amanda Skeldon

Back in northern England, Amanda Skeldon, 47, who works as a director at a company focusing on climate issues affecting nature, attached the baton to her bike and pedalled it for 10km past the area's threatened peat bogs.

“Climate change is everywhere,” she said. “It’s on my very doorstep.”

Schoolchildren cheered her, and the runners accompanying her on in the streets as they passed.

“It was great running passed the schools and all the children cheering,” said Brian Holland, 66, who took part in the baton section with her.

“We need to take action to save the planet and raise awareness. Everyone doing this is sending the right message to children along the way. I hope it will make a difference.”

Updated: October 12, 2022, 2:22 PM