Flags of the countries joining the UN climate conference COP28 in Dubai

Rail ignored by 75% of climate plans: can COP28 change this?

Flags of the countries joining the UN climate conference in Dubai COP28

This Thursday, the UN climate conference COP28 kicked off in Dubai. Though transport is not one of the main topics, railway sector organisations try their best to draw attention to rail as much as possible by advocating for railways as an important player in reducing emissions. 

One of the main goals of COP28, which takes place between 30 November and 12 December, is a global stocktake of the progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Also, mitigation and adaptation of climate change effects are high on the agenda. On the first day, a loss and damage fund to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change was already concluded.

It is the 28th time the countries of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet, and the Conference takes place in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Before the start of COP28, there were reported allegations of the UAE planning to use the climate talks to make oil deals, by the Centre for Climate Reporting working alongside the BBC. Although the Emirati president of the UN climate conference denies these allegations, it has already stained the green outlook of COP28.

The climate conference is expected to gather over 70,000 participants. Though transport causes around one-fifth of global total emissions, it is not one of the main topics of the nearly two-week conference. On Wednesday 6 December, transport will be on the agenda, however. On that day, the EU Pavilion at the conference will be all about transport, where the ‘EU Transport Day’ is organised.

Three key messages by the UIC

As an official observer organisation within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the International Union of Railways (UIC) has the opportunity to engage with the process and insert the voice of railways into the dialogue. A “high-profile delegation” is set to attend and highlight the rail sector’s substantial contribution to climate change mitigation and sustainable development, UIC writes in an update.

The UIC delegation’s primary goal at the COP28 is to underscore the role of rail in addressing climate change and improving sustainability. It focuses on three key messages. The first one is on a policy level: UIC advocates for the inclusion of rail in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Each country that signed the Paris Agreement, established in 2015, is required to establish an NDC and update it every five years. The UIC Sustainability Unit has prepared a study which shows that currently only 25 per cent of NDCs feature railways, and only 10 per cent have specific targets for rail. The next cycle of NDCs is due in 2025, and the study provides analysis and recommendations for countries on how to expand targets for rail in NDCs. The full study will be published on Friday, 1 December.

Also the European sector organisation of railways, the CER is attending the COP28, and also wants to see railways explicitly included in national climate plans. Ethem Pekin, CER Head of Economic Policy and Sustainability: “At COP28, we would like to see binding decisions on climate action, such as the implementation of carbon pricing based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Ending fossil fuel subsidies, and including railways in the national climate plans as an effective way to mitigate climate change.“

Bridging the ‘rail finance gap’

A second important focus of the UIC at the climate top is that investment in rail infrastructure in low-and lower middle-income countries is vital to avoiding strong transport emission growth. Together with Alstom, the University of Birmingham, and consultancy Roland Berger with contribution from the World Bank, UIC prepared a white paper and study titled “Bridging the rail finance gap: challenges and opportunities in low and lower-middle income countries”. Examples of countries defined as lower middle-income countries are Ukraine, Egypt and India, and low income countries Ethiopia, Nepal and Afghanistan, and is based on their Gross National Income per capita. All countries are shown in the map below.

Map of low-income countries (LICs) and lower middle-income countries (LMICs)
Map of low-income countries and lower middle-income countries (image: report ‘bridging the rail finance gap’)

If transport emissions in low and lower-middle income countries grow at the same rate as high-income countries, global emissions could increase by 16 per cent. Rail investment can help these countries to achieve climate goals by quadrupling the modal share of rail to 8 per cent, which would avoid a total of 1.8 gigatonnes of carbon emissions by 2050, according to the study.

Lastly, the UIC co-initiated an open letter calling for fossil-free transport, which asks “governments; climate, development, and private funders; philanthropic institutions; businesses; academic institutions and civil society to take bold and urgent action to double the share of energy efficient and fossil-free forms of land transport for people and goods by 2030, by focusing on shifts to public transport, walking, cycling and rail freight, as well as electric vehicles and railways”.

Author: Esther Geerts

Former Editor RailTech.com

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