DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — If you come to Davos this year, try taking the train instead of flying, the organizers of the World Economic Forum said.
So I did.
That meant a 12-hour journey from London to the exclusive meeting in the Swiss Alps, which I’m helping for The Associated Press.
Taking a train is far less convenient than a plane, but the scenery made up for it: the rolling farmlands of England and France gave way to the towering mountains of Switzerland and idyllic valleys dotted with chalets. And mine carbon footprint will be a lot lower than a flight.
For many, Davos conjures up images of government leaders, billionaire elites and corporate titans flying in on carbon-spewing private jets, even as the meeting focuses increasingly on climate change†
Organizers have been stung by such criticism, even dedicate a web page in recent years to disprove those claims. Encouraging European visitors to come by train is part of their effort to brush up on the event’s sustainability credentials, amid criticism that it’s just a talking shop that isn’t driving systemic change.
I am not the first to go by train. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg made the famous 32-hour train journey to the 2019 Davos meeting, where she wowed participants with a fiery speech. I’m also tapping into a wider wave of passenger interest in short-haul train journeys linked to climate debt.
My journey begins at London’s St. Pancras International train station, where I board the high-speed Eurostar train that takes me through a tunnel under the Channel to Paris in about two and a half hours. There I take a short metro ride to another train station for the next four-hour leg to Zurich.
By plane I would have been crammed onto a cheap flight from Gatwick Airport in London for a one hour 40 minute flight to Zurich, the closest airport to Davos.
But for those who do not live in Europe, a flight is inevitable. And to accelerate my journey after days of successive speeches by government leaders and sessions on decarbonisation, the global economic outlook and the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine, this is how I will travel home.
On board the French high-speed TGV train, the first-class seats are comfortable and spacious and the view of the upper deck offers pleasant scenes of the countryside hurtling by at 320 kilometers per hour (about 200 mph).
Had I flown, my 870-kilometer journey would have emitted up to 197 kilograms (434 pounds) of carbon dioxide per passenger into the atmosphere.
The same train journey would contribute a fraction of that amount — 12.2 kilograms, according to ecopassenger.org.
World Economic Forum officials say climate is a priority for this year’s meeting and praise its green credentials.
“The vast majority of attendees arrive by shuttle or train, and emissions in Davos actually drop during the week of the meeting,” forum director Adrian Monck told reporters ahead of the event, without going into details.
Organizers say they have offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the group’s operations since 2017 by supporting environmental projects in Switzerland and elsewhere. Experts say offsets can be problematic because there’s no guarantee they’ll cut emissions.
The forum can also provide sustainable jet fuel at Zurich airport for those taking private planes.
“It’s probably one of the most sustainably organized gatherings in the world, if not the most sustainable,” Monck said.
Notable attendees include US climate envoy John Kerry, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate and Alok Sharma, head of COP26 from last year’s UN climate conference.
Kerry, who has been criticized for using a private jet owned by his wife’s family, will travel by commercial jet to the meeting in Davos, his spokesman said.
Sharma, a British lawmaker who received flak for his frequent flights last year, will travel by plane and train.
“The COP emissions associated with the COP president’s journey will be offset for the presidency year,” the British government said, without providing further details.
Nakate declined to comment on her trip.
Aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions.
The World Economic Forum has recognized that “from an environmental point of view, taking a private jet is the worst way to travel to Davos.”
Private jets emit about 10 times more carbon dioxide per person than commercial flights and about 50 times more than a comparable train journey, says Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at the Brussels climate policy group Transport & Environment.
Jet engines also emit soot and nitrous oxide, which contribute to pollution around airports and the atmospheric contrails that trap heat, she said.
Sustainable jet fuel is a step in the right direction, depending on the source, but carbon offsetting deserves more skepticism due to concerns such as double counting, she said.
“In particular, it’s a bit socially and politically unfair for some sectors to continue to rely on offsetting instead of actually cutting their emissions,” while others are under pressure to reduce their climate impact, Dardenne said.
Eymeric Segard, CEO of Swiss private jet charter company LunaJets, said some VIPs have no choice but to fly privately.
“Because of their visibility and the fact that everyone knows them, they just can’t take a commercial plane,” he said.
“Some don’t have three weeks off to take sailboats across the Atlantic, like our friend Greta. So what’s the alternative?”
Segard declined to discuss how much demand he sees for travel to Davos, but said his company, which acts as a taxi dispatcher for private jets, is trying to cut carbon emissions by looking for “empty-legged flights” that already have its chartered but extra seats.
Not only is it cheaper, but “the planet is happy because the plane was going to fly anyway, so at least we put someone on it,” he said.
From Zurich main station I transfer again, this time in a slower local train. This is where most people cannot avoid the train when going to Davos, which has no airport, unless they take a shuttle or helicopter from Zurich or two other small nearby airports.
Fashionably dressed people with expensive luggage climbed aboard and told others which panels they belong to in Davos.
The train runs along Lake Zurich and goes into the mountains. After another quick change at a local station, I’m on my last hour and the scenery gets more impressive with every mile.
The narrow gauge train travels through steep valleys and along white water rivers, shaded by forested peaks with chalets scattered on grassy lower slopes until arriving in Davos. Here my journey ends, but my work for the week begins.
Kelvin Chan is an AP business writer based in London. follow him http://twitter.com/chanman†