EU chiefs flew to UN climate talks in private jet

EU chiefs flew to UN climate talks in private jet
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 29 March 2023 05:21

European Council President Charles Michel hopped on a private jet for 72 of 112 official trips.

The EU’s joint presidents flew to last year’s U.N. climate talks in Egypt aboard a private jet, according to data seen by POLITICO that revealed heavy use of private flights by European Council President Charles Michel.

The flight data, received through a freedom of information request, shows that Michel traveled on commercial planes on just 18 of the 112 missions undertaken between the beginning of his term in 2019 and December 2022.

He used chartered air taxis on some 72 trips, around 64 percent of the total, including to the COP27 talks in Egypt last November and to the COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021. Michel invited Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the flight to Egypt.

The EU presidents’ choice of transportation to the climate talks highlights a long-standing dilemma for global leaders: how to practice what they preach on greenhouse gas emissions while also facing a demanding travel schedule that makes private aviation a tempting option — even a necessary evil.

When Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, arrived in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, he delivered a sober message to the gathered climate dignitaries: "We have a climatic gun to our head. We are living on borrowed time,” he said, before adding: “We are, and will remain, champions of climate action.”

According to the NGO Transport & Environment, a private jet can emit 2 tons of planet-cooking CO2 per hour. That means during the five-hour return flight to Sharm El-Sheikh, Michel and von der Leyen’s jet may have emitted roughly 20 tons of CO2 — the average EU citizen emits around 7 tons over the course of a year.

Most COP27 delegates — including the EU’s Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans, according to a Commission official — took commercial flights normally packed with sun-seeking tourists.

The decision to travel to Egypt by private jet was made after no commercial flights were available to return Michel to Brussels in time for duties at the European Parliament, his spokesperson Barend Leyts told POLITICO.

Staff also explored the option of flying aboard Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s plane, but it was scheduled to return before Michel’s work at COP27 would be completed.

Unlike many national governments, the EU does not own planes to transport its leaders. Hiring a private jet was “the only suitable option in the circumstances,” said Leyts. “Given that the president of the Commission was also invited to the COP27, we proposed to share a flight.”

Leyts stressed that the flight complied with internal Council rules, which dictate that officials should fly commercial when possible.

A spokesperson from the Commission confirmed that the famously hostile pair had shared the cabin to Sharm El-Sheikh, noting that reaching the destination by commercial flight was difficult due to the high volume of traffic and von der Leyen’s packed schedule.

"The fact that both presidents traveled together, with their teams, shows that they did what was possible to optimize the travel arrangements and reduce the associated carbon footprint," added the Commission’s spokesperson.

The Commission previously told POLITICO that von der Leyen’s use of chartered trips is limited to “exceptional circumstances,” such as for security reasons or if a commercial flight isn’t available or doesn’t fit with diary commitments. The institution has previously declined POLITICO’s request to share detailed information on the modes of transportation used by the Commission chief for her foreign trips.

As part of its climate goals, the EU is looking to tighten its rules on staff travel to encourage greener modes of transport and bring down the institution’s emissions.

The Commission is aiming to achieve climate neutrality by 2030 by switching to “sustainable business travel,” favoring greener travel options and encouraging employees to cycle, walk or take public transport to work.

Leyts said Michel’s staff enquired about the possibility of using sustainable aviation fuel, but were “regrettably” told that neither Brussels nor Sharm El-Sheikh airports had provision.

Since 2021, Michel has offset the emissions of his flights through a scheme that funds a Brazilian ceramics factory to switch its fuel from illegal timber to agricultural and industrial waste products, according to Leyts. Since 2022, that has applied to all of his flights.

Erika Di Benedetto contributed reporting.

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