In conversation with Soenke Kreft: Cycling to the Conference of the Parties

Dedicated to climate action, Soenke Kreft has twice used his bicycle to travel to COP.

Soenke Kreft is Chief Climate Risk Strategist at UNU-EHS and the Executive Director of the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative. Having participated in all United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiation sessions since 2008, Soenke has expert knowledge of the international climate processes and attends the Conference of the Parties (COP) each year. Dedicated to climate action, Soenke has twice used his bicycle to travel to COP: once to COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in 2018 and also to COP26 in Glasgow, United Kingdom, in 2021. In light of World Bicycle Day, we sat down with him to ask about his cycling journeys to COP.

How did the idea of cycling to COP arise?

I am an avid cyclist and I wanted to give a signal. For example, we work on climate change and risks. We are scientists, and are at times also involved in policy processes. We can also be part of the solution. I wish I could cycle to every COP, but due to the distance of some destinations that is not always possible. I personally feel committed to the pledge of ‘Scientists 4 Future’ (S4F) to avoid short-haul business flights of 1000 kilometers or less. For travel within Europe I therefore take the train. My main message with cycling to COP was that we have to change our ways. Climate change is a reality and transformation is an opportunity. Cycling is both a healthy and sustainable mode of transport that.

Cycling to COP proved to be an exciting opportunity to connect with the communities and places I was passing through, as I could take in the landscape while still travelling fast enough to reach my destinations in time. Together with the UNU-EHS Communications Team, I planned a social media campaign around my travel to COP26 in Glasgow. I shared my impressions “en route” by providing information and insights regarding climate change, climate action and adaptation. The total trip was around 900 kilometers, during which I cycled through plenty of places that allowed me to do so. For example, I saw and photographed the impacts of the floods that hit Western Europe in the summer of 2021, the Dutch dunes that form a defense against storm surges and sea level rise along 200 kilometers of the Dutch coastline, and even visited the peatlands in the Pennines of Yorkshire. The latter are blanket bogs that only form under very wet conditions that function as carbon sinks.

What impressed you most during your cycling trips to COP?

I only had five days to cycle to Katowice, so I had to cycle approximately 200 kilometers per day. That was quite exhausting, and for my trip to Glasgow I reserved some more time. However, on the first two days I rode through storms and I really had to push against the wind to make progress. Additionally, the UK was hit by the worst rain in fifty years. I caught a glimpse of the downpour, but I fortunately did not get stuck in that. On my way to Glasgow I visited our sister institutes UNU-MERIT and UNU-CRIS in the Netherlands and Belgium, and UNU-FLORES on the road to Katowice. These visits were a great opportunity to connect with our colleagues there and to learn about what they are working on. However, what I found the most impressive was the diversity of landscapes I passed through.  While cycling, I could really “feel” the space and distance. I received a great amount of encouragement from so many people, and I simultaneously met many interesting people along the way. To paint you a picture: In Scotland I met a man who was pulling a larger than life-sized polar bear made from bamboo poles on a trolley to COP. His journey started in the south of England, and he walked almost 500 kilometers to Glasgow. Meeting him made me realize that many people care about the climate, the climate crisis and the outcomes of COP.

Another fond memory is my arrival in Katowice. On the last day it started snowing, my bicycle was at the end of its limits and I was freezing. Arriving felt like such an accomplishment! A similar scenario occurred when I was nearing Glasgow, but that time because of the heavy rain. I couldn’t have cycled another day, so I was very happy to succeed in completing my journey by bicycle.