8th Dec 2021

EU institutions don't follow own advice on climate

  • Most EU institutions don't compensate for emissions caused by air travel by its members and staff, a report says (Photo: European Commission)

The European Union has several policies which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and is asking citizens to help make that happen.

Average citizens "can significantly reduce CO2 emissions by making smart choices”, a web page of the directorate-general for climate action tells us.

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One specific example is that you could “offset” your carbon emissions. If you have no choice but to drive or fly, compensate for your carbon emission by contributing to a greenhouse gas reduction programme elsewhere, the commission advises.

But a new report from the European Court of Auditors, published Wednesday (15 October) finds that the EU institutions themselves do not always make those "smart choices".

"Like the majority of the EU institutions and bodies, the commission does not currently offset its emissions, including those caused by air travel by its members and staff.”

The researchers found that the 15 largest European institutions have no common approach and that several measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are voluntary or not structured.

EU institutions and bodies “missed the opportunity to establish and implement a common policy for contributing to the Union’s 2020 goal of reducing GHG emissions by 20 percent below the level of 1990.”

And even though the EU had set binding quantified targets for greenhouse gas reduction by 2020, and will discuss new targets for 2030 next week, “more than half of the audited EU institutions and bodies had not set any quantified targets for reducing their GHG emissions”.

The organisations have achieved lower emissions caused by energy consumption in their buildings, but the court found that data on other emissions, like those from mobility, is not complete.

The court reviewed the publication of carbon emissions of 15 EU institutions and bodies, including the European Court of Auditors itself.

Six of those “did not publish any information on their emissions in 2012. The others only reported incomplete information.”

The six institutions are: European Council and the Council of the European Union, the European External Action Service, the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Medicines Agency and the European Court of Auditors itself.

There is no binding EU legislation that says if and how institutions like the European Commission and the European Central Bank have to calculate their carbon footprint.

The report also notes that European institutions “do not make full use of the environmental management tools promoted by the Commission”.

For example, the commission supports the so-called eco‐management and audit scheme, which allows companies and organisations to evaluate their “environmental performance”.

However, participation in the scheme is voluntary.

European institutions had been able to register since 2001, but by June 2014 only seven of the 15 surveyed institutions had done so. Five others were still preparing registration.

Another scheme promoted by the commission is “green public procurement”, which encourages public bodies to “buy green” when they buy goods and services. Using recycled paper in the office, for example.

And while all institutions use “green procurement”, most of them did not do it systematically.

A third example is the European Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in Data Centres.

As the world, and also EU institutions, begin to rely more on digital information, the demand in energy for data centres increases.

The code of conduct aims to “inform and stimulate data centre operators and owners to reduce energy consumption”.

At the time of the court's research, none of the EU bodies and institutions had signed the code.

There are some examples of improvement too, though.

The European Parliament has managed to reduce some of its greenhouse gas emissions by sending its staff on trains instead of planes when travelling between Parliament locations in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.

While parliament staff travelled 4.8 million kilometres by plane between the different locations in 2006, this was reduced to half a million kilometres in 2012.

The greenhouse gas emissions resulting from travelling staff between parliament locations has reduced in that period by 34 percent, the report said.

The Court of Auditors provided recommendations to the institutions, which responded to the audit at the end of the report. Most of them said they were already in the process of improving their emission reductions.

On not offsetting emissions caused by air travel, the commission replied it will be “considering the recommendation to develop a common approach to offsetting for the EU institutions.”

It also noted that flights within the European Economic Area (EU plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) air operators need to buy or acquire emission allowances under the Emissions Trading Scheme.

“Flights within the EEA are thus subject to the EU ETS carbon price, and this can be considered equivalent to offsetting.”

The European Court of Auditors, meanwhile, accepted pretty much all the recommendations its own auditors suggested.

The court has no legal powers and cannot force its recommendations on the institutions.

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