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Environment Council

Volume 455: debated on Friday 26 January 2007

I represented the United Kingdom at the Environment Council meeting in Brussels on 18 December.

The Council adopted a political agreement on the proposed marine strategy directive after the European Parliament adopted its opinion at First Reading on 13 November. Ideally, the UK would have liked to see the directive go further in some areas, particularly in relation to setting an objective for member states to achieve good environmental status of their marine waters, provided that the definition of good environmental status is challenging but achievable. However, the UK supports the agreement reached as it results in an ambitious but realistic directive that is consistent with the forthcoming Marine Bill, and which improves co-operation through Europe’s regional seas conventions. In particular, we welcome the inclusion of a definition of good environmental status which reflects an ecosystem approach to marine management and ensures that sustainable use is recognised. Related to this, we have successfully argued for a risk-based approach to ensure that the focus of the directive is on the greatest threats that the seas face and which focuses on taking proportionate and cost effective measures.

Council conclusions were agreed on climate change as a follow-up to this year’s COP/MOP in Nairobi in November. The UK was particularly supportive of those sections of the conclusions that provide a strong signal about a long-term future—and ambitious approach—for the EU emissions trading scheme. The presidency also held an exchange of views where member states were asked to consider what the EU’s leadership role should be in 2007 and beyond; what the EU should be doing now in the context of a future agreement and how the global context should be taken into account; and what general elements should the EU be focussing on when developing options for a post 2012 arrangement. The UK emphasised the need for the EU to continue to demonstrate real global leadership on climate change. The UK argued that the EU needed to show our commitment to securing a strong multilateral agreement for the post-2012 period. As a first step, the UK called for the EU to agree carbon reduction targets of 30 per cent. by 2020 and at least 60 per cent. by 2050. This should sit alongside four key elements of a future framework: a stabilisation goal; more work on adaptation; tools to incentivise emissions reductions; and technology transfer.

Council unanimously agreed conclusions on the Commission’s Communication on halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010. These welcomed the Commission Communication which set out priority actions for member states such as integrating biodiversity in all relevant policies, ensuring adequate funding for biodiversity protection, and increasing the knowledge base to ensure evidence-based decisions. The UK supports the conclusions as it reflects the approach already adopted by the UK.

The Council opposed—by qualified majority—two proposed decisions concerning the provisional prohibition of the use and sale of certain genetically modified strains of maize by one of the EU’s member states. The UK voted in favour of the proposed Council decisions based on the opinions of various scientific bodies (including the European Food Safety Authority and the UK’s Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) which have concluded that there is no new relevant scientific evidence in support of the safeguard actions.

Under “Any Other Business”, the UK raised the United Nations General Assembly discussion on the Sustainable Fisheries Resolution in order to raise awareness of the issue of bottom fisheries, notably bottom trawling, and their impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems. The UK would have liked a more ambitious UN Resolution. The UK also urged other member states to oppose any moves to reduce the level of protection afforded to the fin-whale under CITES.

Updates on European action on water scarcity and drought, phosphate in detergents, the mercury strategy and the Paris conference on the environment were also provided by member states. The presidency updated member states on progress made on the revision of the waste framework directive, the thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides (and the associated proposals for a directive and a regulation) and the proposed directive on priority substances in water. The Commission updated Ministers on the Basel Convention. The presidency and the Commission updated Ministers on EU/third country meetings with: the USA, Ukraine, Russia and the Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference on the environment.