One thing was clear from the start – Germany wanted to make its Presidency of the Council of the EU as climate-friendly as possible. It did away with gifts for delegations and set out requirements for the use of local, fair-trade food in catering; thorough waste prevention strategies, and stringent environmental standards for event venues. However, greenhouse gas emissions cannot be reduced to zero. With its various events and videoconferences, even Germany’s sustainable Presidency will have left a carbon footprint. The Federal Environment Agency has calculated this to be 71,519 tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

“We will offset these emissions by supporting international projects for climate change mitigation,” explains Stefanie Böther of the German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHst) at the Federal Environment Agency. The principle of voluntary offsetting is based on the idea that it makes no difference, in terms of climate change, where exactly emissions are generated or avoided. Emissions generated in one place can be offset by emission reductions elsewhere – as well as by investing in projects which cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Germany will offset its Presidency footprint by purchasing certified emission reduction (CER) credits from projects that are certified in line with the clean development mechanism (CDM) in the Kyoto Protocol of the UN. Each credit certifies that the emission of one tonne of CO2 equivalents has been prevented through the climate change mitigation project. The credits are used to finance climate projects which often not only demonstrably reduce emissions in the local area, but also bring long-term benefits for the host countries – such as through creating jobs or protecting residents’ health.

Immediately after their acquisition, Germany will delete the credits so that they can no longer be traded on the voluntary market for greenhouse gas offsets. This means that the offset is permanently ensured.

Three projects have been chosen to offset the emissions generated by Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. All three are micro-projects which directly contribute to sustainable local development and are located in three of the least developed countries in the world: Malawi, Zambia and Uganda.

Efficient ovens: Malawi and Zambia

Cleaner and more efficient: Cooking with new wood stoves in Malawi and Zambia © C-Quest Capital Malaysia Global Stoves Limited

In Malawi and Zambia, charcoal and wood are used for cooking and heating. Wood is often the only source of energy, which not only leads to excessive deforestation but is also inefficient. Wood and charcoal cannot be fully converted into heat energy using traditional stoves and ovens, and the combustion process also produces ash and carbon monoxide. In poorly ventilated living spaces this can lead to respiratory, cardiovascular and eye disease, as well as pneumonia or lung cancer.

The projects supported by the German Presidency use domestic ovens which burn wood more cleanly and efficiently. This protects residents’ health and cuts their household budgets considerably. People become less affected by rising prices for charcoal, wood and transport, and the efficient ovens also cut overall demand for wood and charcoal. This conserves forests and reduces soil erosion, natural habitat destruction, and biodiversity loss. Meanwhile, the projects inject momentum into the local labour market because workers are needed to manufacture, sell and service the efficient ovens.

Clean drinking water: Uganda

Tapping water in Uganda: A chlorine filter ensures clean water right at the dispensing point © south pole group

Increasingly extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts and water shortages, are already taking place as a result of climate change. These don't just threaten agriculture and food security but also people’s health. For example, flooding makes it easier for pathogens to enter drinking water.

In some rural areas of Uganda, gastrointestinal infections have become a particularly severe issue, especially in children. These are caused by poor water quality and a lack of sanitation facilities. Where possible, water is boiled over a fire to kill viruses and bacteria. But in everyday life, this laborious process is often unfeasible. The boiling process also releases CO2, while wood is a scarce resource – it is expensive and time-consuming to obtain firewood or charcoal.

The projects being supported in Uganda use a chlorine solution to purify drinking water so that it is safe to use. Water is treated with chlorine at the well or tap it is drawn from, and the process eliminates the need for boiling. CO2 emissions and deforestation are reduced as a result, while families save time and money. Respiratory and eye disease caused by the smoke from open cooking fires also become less common. The projects are often accompanied by comprehensive training in health and hygiene.

Further information on the compensation of the German EU Council Presidency and on the mechanisms of compensation: