WateXr | Climate-friendly travel for climate change research
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Climate-friendly travel for climate change research

Climate-friendly travel for climate change research

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As part of our policy on Climate-Friendly Research, we follow the guidelines from JPI Climate and recommend train travel between neighbouring countries for attending meetings.  However, for our last annual meeting at Magdeburg (Germany), some members of the Irish team went a step further…    

By Andrew French (Marine Institute) and Tadhg Moore (Dundalk Institute of Technology)

The progress of climate research projects greatly benefits from frequent discussions among collaborating scientists and (for projects such as WATExR) among stakeholders for whom increased understanding of the impacts of climate change can support management of natural resources. While we often make use of convenient web based video-conferences, there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation. The inevitable drawback of this for a geographically diverse group of collaborators is the necessity to travel large distances to attend meetings. Given that transport accounts for 27% of total EU28 greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)1, climate research projects can sometimes (justly) be called out for hypocrisy as scientists travel to and from meetings on the theme of emission fuelled climate change.

A major contributor to GHGs is aviation travel, which has seen a 114% increase since 1990 levels1. Posed with this issue, comrades Andrew French from the Marine Institute, and Tadhg Moore from Dundalk Institute of Technology, put their heads together to explore alternative transport to Magdeburg, Germany for the WATExR annual meeting. Ireland to Magdeburg is a distance of over 1,500km to travel, so travelling without the use of aviation was going to take a considerable amount of time, and a combination of ferries, buses and/or trains. Andrew and Tadhg were determined not only to keep their own emissions low, but also to demonstrate to other participants in the project that it is possible to travel efficiently for work without flying. In this modern age of high-speed trains and highly developed bus networks, it was ultimately a relatively straightforward combination: (i) A return combined ferry-rail ticket from Ireland to London, and (ii) A return train ticket from London to Magdeburg.

Fig 1. Map showing the route taken to and from the WateXr meeting in Magdeburg, Germany.

A potential drawback of train-ferry-train vs. train-flight-train is journey time, as it might not always be feasible to take two days to travel. Nevertheless, the journey from Westport rail station in the west of Ireland to Magdeburg rail station in the north east of Germany allowed plenty of time for laptop working. The longest continual leg of train travel was 10 hours between London and Magdeburg (with changes in Brussels and Cologne), though night travelaboard the Magdeburg-Cologne train afforded a more efficient return leg. Weighing up GHGs vs. travel time for the London to Magdeburg leg (10 hours for train, 7 for flight with connecting train), the environmental benefits in terms of climate-friendly research appear decisive2.

Fig. 2

As a final message on calculations of emissions, we note a central assumption for weighing up GHGs attributable to each travel type is that each vehicle runs at or approaching full passenger capacity. Tadhg and Andrew were left with little doubt that trains (including double deckers) to and from Cologne on the opening of carnival season3 certainly run at capacity, but it was less clear what the fancy-dressed revellers were celebrating… Any explanations?


1 https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/transport-emissions-of-greenhouse-gases/transport-emissions-of-greenhouse-gases-11

2 http://ecopassenger.hafas.de/bin/query.exe/en?L=vs_uic&

3 https://www.cologne.de/events/cologne-carnival/11th-november-carnival-begins.html