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Environment Council

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2011

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 21 June. Stewart Stevenson, Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, also joined the delegation.

At the beginning of the Council, the presidency presented its progress report on the proposal for a directive on control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances (“Seveso III”), which highlighted the key issues that remained for discussion during the Polish presidency, in particular: the scope of the directive, the provisions on public information and the inspections regime. The Council noted the progress report.

Ministers agreed Council conclusions on the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. There was very strong support for the strategy itself, but some debate around whether to endorse the associated targets and actions proposed by the Commission, or to leave these for further discussion. There was general acceptance that the actions needed further discussion, but the Commission and several member states were keen that Council should specifically endorse the targets now, as a means to influence discussions in other fora, such as on the EU budget and CAP reform. Others, notably Denmark and Italy, argued that they should be subject to fuller examination first, to avoid the risk of signing up to something that would not be achieved. I was able to accept language that endorsed the targets, but only if the targets, as well as the actions, took fully into account international agreements. I highlighted the recently published Natural Environment White Paper, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and the England Biodiversity Strategy. I identified the importance of delivering biodiversity objectives through a reformed CAP. Conclusions were ultimately agreed that endorsed the strategy, considered that the strategy and its targets were a key instrument to enable the EU to reach its overall 2020 target and emphasised the need for further discussion on the actions.

The Council then adopted conclusions on the protection of water resources and integrated sustainable water management in the European Union and beyond. There was an exchange of views on expectations for the upcoming Commission blueprint to safeguard Europe’s water resources to be produced in 2012. I stressed the importance of the protection of water resources and integrated sustainable water management and the need to put in place measures to conserve and make better use of these resources. The forthcoming Commission “fitness check” provided an opportunity to thoroughly review existing EU water legislation to ensure it was effective and fit for purpose and I highlighted the importance of integration of water issues into other policies, notably agriculture. On the issue of water shortage and drought, I emphasised that the importance of these topics does not mean that further EU legislation in this area is necessarily required, as some member states propose.

Over lunch and into the afternoon session Ministers discussed the conclusions on the Commission’s roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State called for these to welcome the important analysis in the roadmap; endorse the cost-effective trajectory it sets out including the milestones for 2020, 2030 and 2040; and set a timetable for the Commission to produce further analysis of the policy changes needed to deliver these reductions. Only one member state refused to note the Commission’s finding that a 25% domestic emissions reduction in 2020 was on this cost effective pathway, and so discussion ended with the adoption of presidency conclusions reflecting the majority view.

A progress report on the proposal for a regulation on the possibility for member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory developed into an exchange of views. Those member states which support the proposal strongly endorsed the progress made. The UK and Germany, among others, reiterated our concerns about the impact on the single market and WTO obligations; and the potential negative impact on safe products finding their way to the market. The UK supported proportional and pragmatic regulation on the cultivation of GMOs and while we supported subsidiarity, this should not be at the expense of the single market or the EU WTOs obligations. We encouraged the Commission to ensure the effective operation of the current system.

Under other business France called for an EU management plan for cormorants, the Netherlands for action on nanomaterials, and Denmark spoke on not using credits from industrial gas CDM projects for compliance with the effort sharing decision targets. The incoming Polish presidency outlined its environment priorities: biodiversity; resource efficiency; climate change (adaptation and preparations for the conference in Durban); and, preparations for the UN Rio+20 conference.