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EU Environment Ministers Meeting

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2008

On 11 to 13 April, Peter Unwin, Director General of Defra’s Natural Environment Group, represented the UK at a meeting of Environment Ministers from the EU member states, candidate countries, and the European Commission at an informal ministerial meeting in Brdo, Slovenia, on the theme of “Forest Biodiversity: Challenges and Opportunities for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation”.

The UK emphasised that climate change and biodiversity are intrinsically linked. Healthy and sustainably managed forests represent a valuable opportunity for mitigation in the fight against climate change, through the provision of vital environmental services. The UK welcomed the presidency’s focus on this issue in the wider context of adaptation to climate change. We also underlined the need for greater synergy and consistency between climate change and biodiversity policies both internationally and at home in the EU if we are to secure co-benefits. As such, next month’s meeting on the convention on biological diversity (CBD), the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy and the upcoming Commission communication on green public procurement all provide opportunities to do this.

The UK stressed that in the battle to tackle dangerous climate change, EU member states need to ensure that increased utilisation of wood for energy does not move us away from multi-purpose forest management; this is possible if done within the context of sustainable forest management. The UK also emphasised that biofuels, in particular second-generation fuels, can play an important role in reducing emissions but Member States need to ensure that biofuel targets can be achieved without adversely affective sustainability. There are growing concerns and emerging evidence of the negative impacts of biofuels and these must be taken into account before we agree the direction and level of EU policy. The UK informed Ministers of our review on these issues and that this will inform our national and EU policy. The UK welcomed the fact that the CBD is looking at the potential impacts of biofuels on biodiversity, and seeking to develop biodiversity criteria to input into more general sustainability criteria.

Finally, the UK expressed the view that the EU should ensure a level playing field for domestic and international producers, and we should offer capacity building measures to help developing countries comply with our sustainability criteria, once these have been developed, in order to prevent them from being a technical barrier to trade. The UK confirmed that we will continue to work with the Commission and other member states to reflect these principles in a consistent way as we take forward the renewable energy and fuel quality directives, and we shall do so with an open mind, informed be the evidence as it emerges. Several other member states shared this view.