Erasmus, the EU-wide study away programme, is meant to help the bloc’s growing green ambitions but a lack of data and pressure to deliver is making that difficult, despite interest from young participants and the first decarbonisation incentives already in place.
According to the EU law, the 2021-2027 iteration of the Erasmus programme “is intended to contribute to mainstreaming climate actions and to the achievement of an overall target of 30 % of Union budget expenditure supporting climate objectives.”
Moreover, it is supposed to follow the European Green Deal, the EU’s blueprint for achieving climate neutrality by 2050, and “respect the ‘do no harm’ principle without changing the fundamental character” of the scheme.
This is likely to prove a tall order as currently there is no data on how much carbon burning is attributable to the programme.
Lack of data
“There are statistics on mobilities but not on their carbon footprints,” said Marie Sikias, the manager in charge of the Erasmus Goes Green project at Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France.
Their project, a collaboration between five universities across the bloc as well as the Erasmus Student Network and the European University Foundation, will estimate for the first time the carbon footprint of the Erasmus students’ and staff’s travel to their destination in the previous EU budgetary period of 2014-2020.
It will also forecast the ecological impact of the current, 2021-2027 programme and create tools for Erasmus students to estimate their own emissions.
“If we manage to have an efficient website or application to calculate the carbon footprint of students, this will be integrated into the Erasmus application that is used by all Erasmus students,” Sikias added.
In September, the European Commission announced a significant upgrade to the Erasmus+ app, which now allows students to select their study destination abroad on their phone, sign the necessary documents and get useful tips about the place where they are going, including from their peers.
Greening ‘natural step’
Politicians have been quick to point out that European youth is ready to embrace sustainability. Victor Negrescu, vice-chair of the European Parliament’s committee on culture and education, said “young people love the Erasmus programme but they are also ready to do their part in protecting the environment.”
“So, greening Erasmus seems like a natural step in merging the two dimensions, meaning to reduce the impact of the EU policies and actions on climate while at the same time financing the involvement of young people, NGOs and educational institutions in promoting a safe and green environment,” the social-democrat MEP told EURACTIV.
“Beyond the simple evaluation of the impact on the environment, we are calling for a green inclusive Erasmus capable of providing opportunities for all young Europeans by showing that mobilities and actions can have a lower impact on climate and help promote environment friendly policies,” the Romanian lawmaker added.
Meanwhile, the funding rules for Erasmus published by the European Commission have begun to incentivise greener forms of travel, such as trains.
If students choose the “green travel” option, they can get a top-up of up to €80 and have their subsistence costs covered for the extra days of travel.
At the same time, signs point to a budding interest in greening Erasmus from universities and students themselves.
According to StatErasmus, which publishes statistics and data of the Erasmus+ programme in France, interest in environmental action has skyrocketed in recent years.
The number of projects dealing with ecology and climate change went from 9% of the partnerships in 2018 to 30% in 2020. Moreover, out of the 5,670 events organised in October for Erasmus days, a yearly festival celebrating the programme, 874 carried the ecology tag, with programmes ranging from beach clean-ups to plastic waste awareness campaigns.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]