I represented the United Kingdom at the Environment Council on 15 March in Brussels together with the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock).
The presidency presented a progress report on the soil framework directive, noting that negotiations remain stalled because a group of member states that includes the UK remains strongly opposed to it. In the discussion that followed, I reiterated the reasons for the United Kingdom’s position and highlighted that the fundamental differences of view between member states mean there is a need for a fresh approach to the dossier. Other member states spoke in line with their well-established positions.
The Council adopted conclusions setting out an EU vision for biodiversity through to 2050, and setting a 2020 target to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems services and to restore these as far as possible. I spoke in support of the conclusions and welcomed the work of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) and the study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). I also highlighted the importance of forestry and access and benefit sharing in ensuring an ambitious outcome at the conference of the parties to the convention on biodiversity in Nagoya later this year.
Environment Ministers also exchanged views on the Commission’s recently published communication on the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth, in advance of debate in the European Council later this month. I welcomed the communication’s focus on resource efficiency and emphasised that the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient and climate-resilient economy, which preserves our natural resources for future generations, represents an important opportunity to promote jobs and growth.
Lunchtime discussion focused on the follow-up to the Copenhagen climate change conference. Following lunch, Ministers agreed Council conclusions on this subject in which EU positions were broadly maintained. My hon. Friend the Minister of State emphasised the importance of working towards a legally binding outcome and in particular making concrete progress towards this in Cancún. She highlighted the importance of the positive outcomes from Copenhagen and encouraged swift progress on implementing the Copenhagen accord, particularly around REDD+ (the framework for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and fast-start finance. Ministers continued to show commitment to a global legal framework for reducing emissions, with openness on proposals for achieving it. Mexican Environment Minister Juan Elvira Quesada attended to update Ministers on Mexican preparations for Cancún, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State intervened in recognition of the Mexican team’s dedication and efforts to renew the negotiation process.
The Environment Council concluded with a policy debate on the proposed regulation on reducing CO2 emissions from light vehicles (for example, vans), during which my hon. Friend the Minister of State emphasised that this proposal is key to reducing carbon emissions from transport. She stated that the regulation must include an achievable long-term target for 2020 and also proposed a short-term target date for 2016, supported by effective penalties and incentives for investment in ultra-low-carbon vehicles. She also highlighted the importance of maintaining competitiveness in the automotive sector through the flexibilities proposed in the regulation.