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Durham to Dubai: Durham professor travels overland to COP28

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Professor Andrew Russell from our Department of Anthropology made his way to the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai using as much overland public transport as possible (mainly buses and trains) as one of six University delegates.

Dialogue caught up with Andrew to find out more about his journey and what he hoped to achieve by avoiding air travel as much as he could.

Andrew Russell preparing to leave on the Eurostar for Amsterdam, 17 November 2023
Andrew Russell preparing to leave on the Eurostar for Amsterdam, 17 November 2023

How easy or difficult have you found it travelling to Dubai using only public transport?

It needed a lot of planning but having figured out a route and doing as much booking in advance as possible, the journey itself was a breeze. I had the benefit of using Byway, a flight-free travel specialist, for the European bookings, which meant I could focus on the Middle East. Byway use Interrail passes for European train travel which gives flexibility if the worst happens (which it didn’t, in my case). I used three different sleeper trains in Europe to save time and money.

I am fortunate that the University has a generous research leave policy which, with some research incentivisation funds, gave me the time and resources to make such a trip. It took 12 days in total to reach Dubai – I could have done it in ten, but it’s important to factor in some time for potential delays. I visited some fascinating places enroute, but remained purposeful in my itinerary so that I could reach Dubai in the shortest possible time. 

The main difficulty in terms of travel was that due to the ribbon of countries currently gripped by wars and conflict in the Middle East, flying for one portion of the journey was unavoidable. After researching the different possibilities, I settled on a flight between Antalya (southern Turkey) and Amman (Jordan) as the shortest possible flight (748km). Although this was only a tenth of the total distance, it made up one third of the total carbon footprint for my journey.  

Gull from the Kadikoy ferry, Istanbul
Gull from the Kadikoy ferry, Istanbul

Which of the countries you’ve travelled to is your favourite?

I had never visited Bulgaria, Turkey, Jordan or Saudi Arabia before, so these were definite highlights. Amman (capital of Jordan) was stunning. Saudi Arabia has only recently opened to tourist travel (mostly by air), so doing that part of the journey by land felt particularly intrepid.

What were you hoping to achieve with this journey?

UK government greenhouse gas emission figures indicate planes give out five times more carbon per passenger mile on average than trains. Yet flying has become our default option for journeys that could easily be undertaken by rail or other, greener forms of transport. I hope I have demonstrated not just the need but the ease and pleasures of travelling overland rather than flying, particularly to European destinations. I also wanted to publicize the work of the University’s Centre for Sustainable Development Law and Policy, of which I am a member, and the Environmental Sustainability in Research Working Group.

Oppulent Al Qurayyat station, Saudi Arabia
Oppulent Al Qurayyat station, Saudi Arabia

Find out more:

  • Follow Andrew’s journey from start to finish by visiting the cop28overland Instagram page.
  • Check out the blog posts written by Andrew on his journey and his research.
  • You can find out more about the University’s commitment to addressing climate change by visiting our COP28 webpages.



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