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EU Environment Council

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2013

My noble Friend Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Resource Management, the Local Environment and Environmental Science, represented the UK at the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 18 June. Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, also attended.

After adopting the list of legislative and non-legislative “A” items, Environment Ministers adopted council conclusions on the Commission’s strategy on adaptation to climate change, making only one change to the text. Member states and the Commission shared the view that the conclusions represented a good balance of opinions. Portugal called for inclusion of specific examples of the impacts of climate change in the text. This received broad support and the conclusions were adopted with this amendment. The Commission urged Environment Ministers to be aware of discussions on the uptake of adaptation measures in other policy areas, for example in the common agricultural policy. Member states underlined the importance of taking action on adaptation, with many expressing sympathy to those member states who had recently suffered from severe flooding, and praised various aspects of the Commission’s strategy, especially on mainstreaming adaptation into EU policies and improving knowledge sharing.

The Irish presidency then introduced its progress report on negotiations to amend directives relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and the promotion of energy from renewable sources, in order to address the indirect land use change (ILUC) impacts of biofuels. The presidency acknowledged that there were diverging opinions, but hoped that consensus could be reached. Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard defended the Commission’s proposal, arguing that it represented a reasonable balance between delivering greenhouse gas emission reductions and respecting existing investments in biofuels. The presidency invited brief comments from member states, but indicated that substantive discussion would take place at working group level. Several member states, including the UK, intervened. Points raised included the need for robust action; the proposed 5% cap on crop-based biofuels; the advanced biofuel sub-target; and mutual recognition of national biofuel certification schemes.

On the follow-up to the United Nations conference on sustainable development (“Rio+20”), Ministers endorsed Council conclusions on the overarching post-2015 agenda and exchanged views on the links between the UN Secretary General’s high-level panel report on the post-2015 development agenda and the elaboration of the sustainable development goals. Commissioner Potocnik welcomed the Council conclusions and noted that they gave a clear signal for an integrated framework. He drew particular attention to six issues: the promotion of drivers for the green economy; the role of sustainable consumption; the need for planetary boundaries to be respected; the need for an integrated approach in developing the future framework; improving the financing of the post-2015 framework; and the need to speak with one EU voice. Member states were broadly positive about the Council conclusions. Ministers also responded to the presidency’s questions on the links between the UN’s high-level panel of eminent persons on the post 2015 development agenda and the elaboration of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The presidency noted strong support from member states for the high-level panel report, for a single development agenda, and for the five transformational shifts—particularly for the focus on sustainable development. The presidency noted that there was no consensus yet on the priority areas but that it was important to more fully integrate the environment into the goals.

Under AOB items, the Council took note of the Irish presidency’s note on the aviation emissions trading scheme. The Commission called upon Ministers to agree upon a regional market-based system; indicated that it was important for the EU to speak with one voice in international negotiations; and highlighted the importance of foreign airlines being included in the “stop the clock” system. The Council then took note of the presidency’s progress report on negotiations on the fluorinated greenhouse gases proposal, with the Commission referencing the recent US-China agreement on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). On the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive, the presidency summarised the discussion so far. The Commission observed that everyone wanted the EIA to be more effective and efficient, and that harmonisation across the EU was necessary to create a level playing field. On access and benefit sharing of genetic resources, the presidency recapped the discussion that took place at March Council. The Commission was confident that progress made under the Irish presidency would be a good basis for discussions with the European Parliament after the summer.

Continuing with the AOB items, the deputy ambassador from the Netherlands introduced an information note to the Council on micro-plastic litter in the environment. Italy, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark intervened in favour of the Netherlands proposal, while the UK encouraged further voluntary action with industry. The Commission welcomed the Netherlands initiative, and indicated that it would look into the issue in the context of its Green Paper on plastic waste. Hungary then introduced its information note on the forthcoming “Budapest water summit”, which will take place 8-11 October 2013. Finally, the incoming Lithuanian presidency set out its work programme for the coming six months.

Ministers then broke for a working lunch, during which the marine strategy framework directive (MSFD) was discussed. Professor Laurence Mee, director of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, gave a presentation on the main challenges for implementation of the MSFD. A wide-ranging discussion followed, with an emphasis on blue and green growth. Commissioner Damanaki (DG MARE) spoke about the common fisheries policy, and about the importance of working together to tackle marine pollution. The Commissioner confirmed thatj its current view was that targets on marine litter would not be mandatory, and that any consideration of targets would be on a Europe-wide basis rather than at a national level.