Report on Parliament’s carbon footprint branded ‘public relations exercise’

The report says the assembly’s current two-seat arrangement, which sees MEPs regularly switching between Brussels and Strasbourg, is unsustainable.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

18 Nov 2020

The report, entitled “The European Parliament's carbon footprint - towards carbon neutrality” recommends that the EU considers establishing Brussels as its sole base to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

A decision on the controversial issue, it says, should be taken within six to nine years.

It reads, “Instead of its current three official sites (Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg), in a carbon neutrality pathway, it is evident that the European parliament needs to consider operation in one site.”

The study was commissioned last December by Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and was authored by Georgios Amanatidis and Srdan Randic, both from Parliament’s policy department, who presented their findings to MEPs on Monday.

They said the study analyses Parliament's carbon footprint in relation to the assembly’s declaration of a climate emergency in Europe and Parliament’s own plans to become carbon-neutral by 2030.

But Czech ECR Alexandr Vondra was critical of the report, branding it a “public relations exercise.”

“CO2 offsetting - the purchase of carbon offsets to compensate for the purchaser's own emissions - is a valuable part of Parliament's strategy to tackle climate change as a final step in a complete carbon management plan” European Parliament spokesman

The deputy, a member of the ENVI Committee, said, “It was the ECR that originally requested this study but with a specific focus on the Parliament's claim to be 100 percent carbon neutral in the context of the two-seat arrangement and not this more extensive study that was the result of broader compromise with the other groups.”

He added, “Our concern at the time was that a wider, less-focused study would risk becoming a public relations exercise to justify the Parliament’s existing actions to reduce emissions, instead of actually addressing the emission problems arising from having parliamentary seats in Belgium and France.”

“Unfortunately, and this is no reflection on the authors, this seems to be the case with this study.”

He said, “It is not enough to list the emissions from the two sites, or to highlight the emission reduction benefits already realised from increased modal shift over the last decade, that is, from planes to trains, or indeed to extol the virtues of offsetting as ultimately offsets often do not address the root of the problem.”

“While there is an acknowledgement that the two-seat arrangement is unsustainable and a recommendation for long-term action (six to nine years) to advocate for consensus amongst the Member States for a single seat, the study does not really help move the debate forward.”

“It was the ECR that originally requested this study but with a specific focus on the Parliament's claim to be 100 percent carbon neutral in the context of the two-seat arrangement and not this more extensive study that was the result of broader compromise with the other groups” Alexandr Vondra, ECR

A Parliament spokesman told this website, “Parliament's environmental policy is based on the principle of preventing emissions and, where emissions are unavoidable, of limiting them. However, emissions cannot be reduced to zero and, once emissions cannot be limited any further, other options have to be explored.”

“In this context, CO2 offsetting - the purchase of carbon offsets to compensate for the purchaser's own emissions - is a valuable part of Parliament's strategy to tackle climate change as a final step in a complete carbon management plan.”

“Offsets are typically achieved through financial support for projects such as renewable energy and energy efficiency which reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The spokesman said, “Since 2016 Parliament has offset all of its irreducible carbon emissions. In practice, that means that Parliament purchases through a public tender the amount of carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market (VERs) equivalent to its calculated carbon emissions from the previous calendar year.”

“These carbon credits come from certified carbon emission reduction projects and are definitively cancelled (‘retired’) in the relevant carbon credit registry after purchase, thus offsetting Parliament's emissions. The widely recognised Gold Standard certification is used as a quality standard for offsetting projects generating the carbon credits purchased by Parliament.”

MEPs have, over the years, made repeated recommendations in favour of ending the Strasbourg sittings and other reports have said that scrapping the link with the Alsace city could generate annual savings of €114m plus a one-off saving of €616m if the buildings were sold off.

Parliament’s formal seat is in Strasbourg while Brussels and Luxembourg are “working places” and Luxembourg hosts the Parliament’s secretariat.

A treaty change would be needed to scrap Strasbourg as an official seat, something that the vast majority of French MEPs oppose.

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