Q & A

What is the Copenhagen climate change summit?

From December 7 and two weeks forward high level representatives including ministers and state leaders will meet in Copenhagen for the United Nations climate conference to develop a successor to the Kyoto protocol. The talks are the latest in an annual series of UN meetings that trace their origins to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which aimed at coordinating international action against climate

What is climate change?

Climate change is long-term significant change in the average weather, happening because the average temperature of the globe is increasing. The global warming is caused by increased Green House Gas (GHG)-emissions from the earth’s surface that get trapped under the atmosphere. The atmosphere is a protective layer around the earth (including different types of air and gasses) that protects us against the burning beams of the sun and ensures a climate that makes it possible for people, animals and plants to live here.

What does COP15 stand for?

COP15 is the official name of the Copenhagen climate change summit — the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The COP is the highest body of the UNFCCC and consists of ministers who meet once a year to discuss developments in the convention.

Which countries are taking part in the climate change summit, and how many people will be there?

One hundred and ninety-two countries have signed the United Nations climate change convention. More than 15,000 officials, advisers, diplomats, campaigners and journalists are expected to attend COP15, joined by heads of state and government.

What does the summit hope to achieve?

Officials will try to agree a new climate treaty as a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012. According to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, the four essentials needing an international agreement in Copenhagen are:

1 How much are industrialised countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?

2 How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?

3 How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?

4 How is that money going to be managed?

Why is transportation important in regards to addressing climate change?

Transport alone is causing about one quarter of the global CO2-emissions, and is the only sector where the emissions continue to grow. We travel more than ever for pleasure and for business – and the increasingly global market depends on increasingly transportation of goods and people.

Therefore transport needs special attention in relation to combating the climate change. Today transport is not targeted especially because it is up to each country that has ratified the Kyoto Protocol to to define how it will achive the national target it has signed up for. This also disqualifies emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping from being targetted by the Kyoto Protocol. The development in CO2 emissions from the transportation sector requires that we target transportation urgently if we want to achieve a sustainable emission level.

How does the train make a difference?

Rail is one of the most energy efficient transport modes and thus provides transportation that causes fewer emissions than other transport modes. Travelling by rail is on average 3-10 times less CO2 intensive compared with road or air transport.
With 7-10% of market share, rail still only contributes just 2 % of the EU transport sector’s CO2 emissions. However, the rail sector is not resting at its laurels and is continuously working to improve its natural sustainability and energy advantages.

How are the railways involved with climate change?

UIC is strongly dedicated to promote rail as part of the solution of the future climate regime and in how to develop sustainable transport systems. UIC is also together with its members working continuously to improve the environmental and sustainability performance of the rail sector, including mitigation and adaptation to tackle the cause and the effects of the global warming.

Mitigation is to reduce the emissions or preventing the causes of climate change, such as increasing energy efficiency and reducing reliance on carbon-emitting technology. Read more about UIC’s work within this field under Energy & CO2-emissions.

Adaptation includes understanding how to cope with predicted climate changes, and for railways this include making railway assets more resilient to expected extreme weather effects - to survive in a new environment. Adaptation involves actions that can be taken immediately. Read more about UIC’s work on this under Adapting to climate changes.

The challenges of achieveing a sustainable development in the transport sector is however about more than tackling the GHG-emissions. Read more about UIC’s work on how to include more aspects of these challenges under Sustainable Mobility.

Read more about UIC’s environment and sustainability work in general here.