Tuesday 25 June 2013
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
EU Environment Council
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.
New psychoactive substances have the potential to pose serious risks to public health and safety. They are often marketed as legal alternatives to controlled substances, but users can have no certainty of the health risks that will arise from using them, nor the legal status of these substances.
The market in new psychoactive substances poses challenges due to the rapid development of new drugs. The UK published an NPS action plan in May 2012 which committed us to a range of measures to address the threat, including galvanizing international partners and institutions to meet this global challenge.
The UK has played a leading role in meeting this challenge and building international partnerships. Over the past two years we have successfully led two UN resolutions to foster international action and collaboration. We have also taken the opportunity of the G8 presidency to progress our response to this threat with other G8 member states, the UN and the EU. We are engaged in a very positive exchange, sharing our understanding of the market and different approaches to protect the public and exploring opportunities for collaboration going forward.
The sharing of information among international partners on the emergence of new substances, their impact on public health and the supply routes is invaluable in addressing the challenge. I am pleased to inform Parliament that the G8 have agreed a statement of intent to progress our close joint working on this. The statement is available on the Home Office website.
Civil Aviation Authority (Air Navigation Guidance)
When the Civil Aviation Authority is exercising its air navigation functions it is required under the Transport Act 2000 to take account of environmental guidance given to it by the Secretary of State. The current guidance was issued in January 2002 by the then Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Since its publication, there have been some significant developments such as the creation of both the future airspace strategy and single European sky and the aviation policy framework which need to be reflected in the guidance.
On 17 January 2012 it was announced therefore that there would be a consultation on a revised version of the air navigation guidance following the publication of the aviation policy framework. I am pleased to announce the launch today of this consultation on our proposed new version of the guidance which has been developed with the technical assistance of the Civil Aviation Authority.
The proposed new guidance has two key objectives. The first is to provide the Civil Aviation Authority with additional clarity on the Government’s environmental objectives relating to air navigation in the UK, including the need to improve the efficiency of our UK airspace network. The second is a reaffirmation of the need to consult local communities near airports when airspace changes are being considered in the vicinity of these airports.
The consultation will run from Tuesday 25 June to Tuesday 17 September. Anyone with an interest is invited to take part, although the guidance is aimed at both the Civil Aviation Authority and those organisations likely to make airspace change proposals in the future.
A copy of the consultation document and instructions for responding can be found on my Department’s website at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications.
An electronic copy has been lodged with the Library of the House.
The responses received to this consultation will be used to help refine the guidance which is expected to be presented to the Civil Aviation Authority by the end of the year.
Work and Pensions
Pension Protection Fund (Compensation Cap)
On 4 December 2012, during the Adjournment debate on the position of the Visteon pensioners, I announced that I would be conducting a review of how the Pension Protection Fund compensation cap operated, particularly in relation to those who have been members of a pension scheme for a long time.
The Government accept that the PPF compensation cap could have a disproportionate effect on some people who were members of a scheme for a long time. As a result, I propose that the compensation cap will be increased by 3% for every full year of service above 20 years. There will still be a maximum, which will be double the standard cap.
It is my intention to bring forward legislation to revise the compensation cap as soon as parliamentary time allows.
This revised compensation cap will not be backdated: anyone covered by this change who is already in receipt of capped compensation will get any increase from the date the relevant legislation is in place. The revised cap will also affect any scheme that does not enter the PPF, but only where it begins to wind up or enters the PPF assessment period after the revised cap is introduced.
For example, a person who has been a member of a pension scheme for 40 years and had accrued a pension of £50,000 would, if they took their compensation on reaching age 65 today, be paid a capped amount of £31,380. Following my proposed change, this person would see their compensation increase to £45,000.