Belgium pledges ‘sustainable’ EU presidency

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Belgium wants to lead by example during its upcoming EU presidency and has pledged to minimise the environmental impact of the numerous meetings and summits planned over the next six months.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme, State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel and Climate and Energy Minister Paul Magnette have signed a 'Charter for a Sustainable Presidency', which provides a good practice guide for workers and a check-list featuring a carbon footprint calculator.

The guidelines cover catering, mobility and the origin of materials used ''for the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable development,'' a concept at the heart of the Lisbon Treaty.

Belgium follows the example of previous presidencies such as France, Germany and Austria, which had taken into account the environmental impact of their stint at the EU helm.

Magnette expressed confidence that the six-month presidency, which begins on 1 July, would be able to prove itself a pioneer in altering the consumption patterns of public administrations as well as policies geared towards citizens.

''Belgium wishes to stand side-by-side with those countries who have always taken the ecological impact of their presidencies to heart. By setting the right example, respect for the environment and human dignity can go hand-in-hand,'' he said.

The miles flown by ministers and officials to meetings organised in the host country have often attracted criticism from environmentalists. Belgium, however, has the advantage of being home to the EU institutions and can therefore avoid unnecessary traffic.

The EU's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) for evaluating an organisation's environmental performance will be applied by Belgium throughout its EU presidency, the first time it has been used in this regard.

Belgium will identify the biggest contributors to emissions during its presidency and table possible recommendations to reduce them over the next six months.

Carbon taxes, vehicle emissions and negotiating a new international climate treaty are all expected to feature on the presidency's agenda.

Major international meetings are renowned for their impact on the environment. Last year's UN climate summit in Copenhagen alone produced 46,200 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the emissions attributed to 3,000 Belgians in an entire year.

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