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Environment Council

Volume 450: debated on Friday 20 October 2006

I will represent the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 23 October.

At this Council, the Finnish presidency will be seeking political agreement on the proposed directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, following the Council’s agreement on a general approach at the June Council. The directive, the first legal measure to be brought forward under the Commission’s Air Thematic Strategy of September 2005, consolidates and simplifies current EU ambient air quality legislation, retaining existing standards for pollutants in air, but gives member states several new flexibilities to help them comply with the legislation. The UK strongly supports the general approach text as it strikes the right balance between allowing member states some flexibility in meeting targets while achieving a net improvement in public health protection. The UK will continue to oppose the introduction of more flexibility which would make it easier to postpone obligatory standards for various pollutants.

The presidency will be seeking Council conclusions on three items. On climate change, the conclusions will serve as the negotiating mandate for this year’s COP/MOP in Nairobi in November, focusing on the scale and urgency of the climate change challenge while setting out priorities for the Nairobi meeting including adaptation, technology transfer and the various further action tracks. The UK will also be seeking to ensure that the conclusions reflect the emergence of the global carbon market and its important potential for leveraging funding for technology development and transfer, in particular emphasising that the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) is the nucleus of this market and a key driver of its expansion.

Council will also be asked to agree conclusions on the preparations of the eighth conference of the parties to the Basel convention on the control of transboundary hazardous wastes and their disposal. The UK welcomes the inclusion of ship recycling in the Council conclusions, as we are keen that the issue of ship recycling remains on the agenda. The new convention being negotiated under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is unlikely to enter into force for several years and interim measures are needed to improve environmental conditions at current ship recycling facilities.

The presidency will be seeking Council conclusions on the thematic strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources which forms part of the EU’s sixth environmental action programme. The UK supports the thematic strategy as a first step towards decoupling economic growth from the environmental impacts of resource use. The UK is particularly pleased to see strong links being made to the Commission’s proposed EU sustainable consumption and production (SCP) action plan, which we believe will be an important means of advancing this agenda.

The Council will hold a policy debate on the thematic strategy for the protection of the marine environment and the proposed marine strategy directive. Member states will be asked to consider whether the strategy and directive are adequate, whether an explicit definition of good environmental status (GES) is required in the directive and how to balance and strengthen national measures and regional co-operation. The UK supports an ambitious but realistic definition of GES in the directive. We would like the directive strengthened so that there is a requirement for the EU to take appropriate decisions or actions, within the framework of the common fisheries policy, where fishing is preventing a member state from achieving GES. We support regional co-operation, whilst recognising that implementation of a directive rests with individual member states.

Under “Any Other Business”, the first European congress of conservation biology, a ban on mercury exports from the EU and forest fires in Spain during the summer have been raised by member states. The presidency and the Commission will update Ministers on EU/third country meetings with: the EU/Russia Partnership Council on Environment; Korea; China; ASEM; and India.