17th Aug 2019

Some tips to help EU Parliament reduce its carbon footprint

  • The EP tries to encourage its staff to carpool when going to Strasbourg, to reduce emissions (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The European Parliament said on Friday (13 November) it will be “100% carbon neutral” in 2016 by buying carbon credits to offset flights made by MEPs between their home countries and Brussels or Strasbourg.

Since 2011, it has already been offsetting emissions from energy use in its bulidings, and from official staff travel and cars.

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The EP made €250,000 available to offset "irreducible carbon emissions", it said in a press release.

But what are the reducible emissions? What changes could the institution representing the EU's citizens make to further reduce its carbon footprint?

The most obvious change is the one which the EP has no control over: stop its staff from having to travel from Brussels to Strasbourg every month.

Granted, greenhouse gas emissions due to staff travel between Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg - the third seat where many administrative duties are carried out - have dropped by 34 percent between 2006 and 2012.

A 2014 report by the European Court of Auditors said that this drop “is largely attributable to the fact that train travel largely replaced plane travel." Train travel is much less polluting than air travel.

However, even if the travelling part of the monthly move to Strasbourg is kept out of the calculation, there is still the carbon emissions resulting from having two buildings instead of one.

A 2007 study by John Whitelegg of the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, said that ending the Strasbourg sessions would cut emissions by almost 4,000 tonnes of CO2 per year in electricity and gas - a volume similar to emissions from 842 passenger cars driven continuously for a year.

But the monthly session in the French city is enshrined in the EU treaty, and only national governments can decide to change that. With France having a veto, that is not going to happen.

Walking around the EP building in Brussels, however, this reporter quickly saw several possibilities for improvement.

It is not hard to stroll into an empty corridor where all the lights are on. Sensors that detect movement so that lights only switch on if someone is there, could reduce electricity use. Several areas close to windows where natural light is coming from, have indiscriminate lighting during the day.

Anyone who ever attended a committee meeting or public event in the EP will also know that there are often plastic bottles with 330ml of water available. Why not install water taps instead and ask people to bring their own refillable bottles?

Then, entering the EP's self-service canteen, one cannot help but notice the lack of popularity of the daily vegetarian meal. On most days, the line for the vegetarian meal is shortest of all.

But reducing meat consumption is an effective way of reducing a carbon footprint. Researchers found that the carbon footprint of meat eaters was around twice as high as that of vegans.

Those who eat 100 grammes of meat a day, indirectly emit around 7 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per day.

But the almost 4 million customers a year of the EP's canteen are in no way stimulated to have a meal without meat, let alone without dairy products.

In fact, after a new caterer won the contract from its competitor, it raised the price of the only daily vegetarian meal on the menu from €5 to €6.95.

The cheapest option - the €4,90 daily special - contained meat on three days, and fish on two days this week.

MEP Ulrike Lunacek, member of the EP's administrative body the bureau, said in a statement Friday the EP “will further improve the implementation of its environmental practices throughout the Parliament in key areas, such as water, paper and electricity consumption, waste recycling and awareness-raising.”

To be fair, the EP has already reduced its carbon emissions. By how much, that depends on the method of calculating. The EP says in 2014 it has reduced emissions by 27.2 percent compared to 2006.

But as the report of the European Court of Auditors noted, the EP calculates this reduction by looking at emissions per full-time equivalent (FTE) staff member, and not absolutely.

The reduction in 2012 was 26.4 percent when taking the FTE calculation, but less impressive when looking at absolute numbers: 8.2 percent.


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