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Sustainability at Metochi Study Centre

UiA has had activity at Metochi on the island of Lesvos in Greece for 30 years. How sustainable is it to continue?

Illustration photo of Metochi Study Center
The Sustainability Committee’s report provides a good basis for nuanced discussions about continued activity on Lesvos. Illustration photo of Metochi Study Center.

We at UiA will travel less and make our travels more environmentally friendly, this is laid down in the university’s travel policy.

It is therefore crucial that we discuss the carbon footprint of our flights to the study centre at Metochi on Lesvos. UiA’s activity at Metochi contributes to many of the other UN sustainability goals however, which must also be taken into account when considering UiA’s continued activity there.

Therefore, we set up a Sustainability Committee, which was tasked with analysing the activity along the three sustainability dimensions: economic, environmental and social.

The committee was led by Professor Anne Gerd Imenes and has produced a very interesting report, which can be read here.

The committee’s report shows that activity at Metochi, including travel, accounts for less than 1% of UiA’s total climate emissions. There is also potential for more sustainable operations on site, and it is possible to reduce the total climate emissions of travel by, for example, using Metochi as a location for international gatherings that in any case would require plane travel. Financially, the operation is self-financing, and UiA employees only account for one third of overnight stays.

The Sustainability Committee’s report provides a good basis for nuanced discussions about continued activity on Lesvos.

The report will be presented to the University Board in January. It will not be issued for consultation, but I would appreciate any comments on the committee’s assessments, or any other thoughts and input you may have on this. Please feel free to comment below.

See the summary below:

Summary of the Sustainability Analysis

The University of Agder and its predecessors have had a presence at Metochi on Lesvos for around 30 years. Many of the university’s employees have a close and personal relationship with the place, but there are also many who do not. In this report, we start by presenting a historical background for the choice of location, the uniqueness of the location and the use of the place. To do this, it is necessary to go back to Greek antiquity and the island’s role in that time, especially when it comes to the history of science and art.

Although sustainability must here be understood in a broad perspective and in several dimensions, we see no reason to hide the fact that the problems surrounding air travel and its climate impact have been the key factor triggering the recent discussions about the university’s use of Metochi. Our analysis therefore takes as its starting point the trips to and from Metochi, with reference to UN climate panel reports and our own calculations of the greenhouse gas emissions from the travel undertaken, and from alternative means of travel. We have also looked at the financial costs of travel to and from Metochi, the operation of the place and the investments and upgrades made by the university. Much of the operation and activity at Metochi scores highly on several sustainability indicators. Nevertheless, we are also discussing the possibilities for an even more sustainable operation, especially through harnessing more solar power. In the report we also give an account of the collaboration with local actors, and we point to the possibility of further development of this collaboration.

Our analysis shows that UiA’s use of Metochi, including travel, amounts to less than one per cent of UiA’s total emissions. Of this, around 85% of the climate impact comes from travel to and from Lesvos. These findings point to the necessity of seeing travel to Metochi in a wider perspective. What is decisive for the university’s contribution to the reduction of climate emissions is the total emissions, which means that all flights must be looked at together, both domestic and international. An additional point here is that while flights between Norway and Lesvos come under the EU quota system, a mechanism whose goal is to reduce emissions to meet the commitments under the Paris Agreement and the UN climate summits, travel to and from places outside Europe is not subject to such a system. In the longer term it is expected that air travel will generate lower emissions of greenhouse gases. Until this happens to a significant extent, it may be necessary to limit all plane travel for employees at UiA, which means stricter prioritisation.

We have found that should stricter prioritisation of plane travel lead to a significant reduction in the number of flights to Metochi for employees at UiA, this would not significantly affect the financial sustainability of the current operation of the site.

When it comes to social sustainability, we see the potential for increased contact between Metochi and the local community. We also see opportunities for closer collaboration with the local university, University of the Aegean.

The report also describes how the refugee crisis has affected Lesvos and the role Metochi and UiA have taken and are taking in this crisis. The geopolitical situation today, with the ongoing war in Ukraine, makes Metochi even more important as a place where different cultures can meet to promote mutual understanding and discuss, in other words an opportunity to serve as a space for peacemaking. There is no doubt that war is a greater source of climate and environmental damage than travel is. At Metochi, people from different countries and cultures meet and talk about creating better societies and preventing war.

The report ends with the committee’s reflections and a summary of proposals for a more sustainable use of Metochi.