EU officials to limit travel in drive to cut CO2, costs

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The European Commission wants to lead by example on reducing CO2 emissions with a decision to apply the world's first personal carbon quotas on commissioners and other Brussels officials.


Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate commissioner, will unveil the measures today (1 April) as part of the Commission's contribution to the Rio Earth Summit in 2012.

"The Commission should lead by example in the fight against global warming and cut travel wherever possible," Hedegaard said, emphasising the role that videoconferencing can play in reducing unnecessary travel.

Janusz Lewandowski, the EU's budget commissioner, added: "With the current austerity mood, this is a measure that will also enable us to save on expenditure and keep costs under control."

Personal carbon quotas impose a maximum quantity of CO2 that each individual may emit into the atmosphere each year. Those who exceed their quota – for instance those who travel frequently by air or those who drive large gas-guzzling cars – can buy unused credits from individuals who have not used their own.

The exact form that such quotas could take is still subject to internal debate. However, Hedegaard is believed to favour a system in which 'quota transfers' are possible, which would enable those commissioners who drive the least carbon-friendly cars, and who travel long haul most frequently, to 'buy' carbon credits from their more desk-bound colleagues, or those who drive eco-friendly cars.

These transfers would go some way to meeting strong internal resistance to the measures voiced by the team of Catherine Ashton. As the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Ashton is required to spend much of her time flying, but her team are bitterly disappointed that an internal draft of the policy circulated this week makes clear that she would not escape the quota system, given her dual role as a vice-president of the Commission.

The idea has already been examined in the UK, where former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband suggested introducing "carbon credit cards" for citizens. The idea was later dropped because it was believed to be "ahead of its time in terms of public acceptability".

The decision is met with scepticism among dismayed EU officials. "How on earth are we going to finalise the Doha trade talks if we are unable to meet negotiators in India or the US," asks one official, speaking to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity. "Videoconferencing may be useful but nothing replaces face-to-face meetings," the official said.

Another angry official in charge of implementing EU development policies in the Caribbean said he would consider resigning if carbon quotas prevented him from visiting beneficiaries of programmes on the ground: "My holidays are already numbered so if I can't travel for work, then I'm quitting," he said.

Others were more positive, however and even suggested taking the measure one step further. "With CO2 quotas, commissioners will maybe think twice before taking new initiatives," said Jennifer Williams, a campaigner at Free Europe, a Eurosceptic think-tank based in the UK. "I'd suggest placing a 'hot air' quota limiting the number of speeches they can make."

Environmentalists were also positive. "If they could cap the amount of policy papers coming out the Commission's offices, that would certainly help curb deforestation," said Arthur Bebb, from Friends of the Planet, an NGO.

A senior EU official who refused to be named said: "I welcome the proposal. Flying a lot can be a strain and is environmentally unsound. However, I hope that this does not mean that my first class travel will be curtailed. When taking the EU message to far-flung places, a flat bed, a decent meal and a good choice of wines are indispensable."



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