For some time the European Union has been presenting itself as a champion of environmental protection. Indeed, Germany, as current EU president, has pledged to make fighting climate change its top priority. But a new report has revealed that one EU institution is itself responsible for generating an extra 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions each year -- completely unnecessarily.
Each month, the 785 members of the European Parliament drag themselves, their luggage and all their important documents the 450 kilometers (280 miles) from Brussels to Strasbourg in order to hold a four-day session there. This traveling band of politicians is accompanied by journalists, assistants, interpreters and lobbyists -- in total 3,000 people descend upon the French city during the parliamentary sessions. For the rest of the time the politicians are based in the Belgian capital, while the secretariat is situated in Luxembourg.
This awkward arrangement was agreed upon in a 1992 EU treaty to ensure that France had at least one important European Union institution on its soil. But it has long been derided as typical EU bureaucratic waste, with the "traveling circus" costing taxpayers an estimated €206 million ($281 million) a year. Now it seems that the parliament's carbon footprint is just as costly.
On Wednesday the Green Party's group in the European Parliament issued a report outlining the environmental costs of the two-seat system. The report, commissioned by Britain's two Green members of the European Parliament (MEPs), was carried out by Professor John Whitelegg of the University of York. It calculates the carbon emissions generated every month by the commute of the parliamentary entourage, along with the carbon costs of shuttling 15 trucks of documents between the sites, and the energy needed to maintain the parliamentary buildings in Strasbourg, which lie empty for 307 days a year. The study estimates that the two-seat system is responsible for at least 20,268 tons of CO2 emissions a year. In comparison, the small island nation of the Cook Islands produced about 30,000 tons a year.
"The figure is a conservative estimate," the report says. "It includes only transport and energy costs without examining other impacts. Actual emissions produced are likely to be far higher."
The Green MEPs argue that the ongoing system of having two parliamentary seats is damaging the EU's credibility as a leader on tackling climate change. Only last month the 27-nation bloc pledged to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. And on Wednesday the parliament is exected to set up a committee to look at ways of tackling climate change.
"The Strasbourg operation imposes a very large climate change burden," says British Green MEP Caroline Lucas, who commissioned the report. "The EU itself must exercise some environmental leadership -- and end the two seat arrangement immediately."