Wednesday 15 January 2014
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I represented the UK at the European Environment Council meeting in Brussels on 13 December. Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment and Climate Change in the Scottish Government, and Alun Davies, Minister for Natural Resources and Food in the Welsh Government, also attended.
After adopting the list of legislative and non-legislative “A” items, Environment Ministers held an exchange of views on a proposal for a regulation on monitoring, reporting and verification of C02 emissions from ships. I set out the UK’s objective of securing a global agreement under the International Maritime Organisation but confirmed the UK’s view that the scope of the Commission’s proposal is broadly appropriate. The majority of other member states who spoke agreed with the UK that a global measure is the main objective and that the scope of covering ships over 5,000 gross tonnage, but not gases other than C02, is appropriate. Views diverged with regard to transparency of information. Denmark emphasised the importance of exposing data to public scrutiny, while Cyprus and Malta highlighted the commercial risk of disclosing data for individual vessels.
The Commission introduced its proposal on tackling invasive alien species (IAS), underlining its intention to focus only on species non-native to the EU. During the orientation debate, there was universal support for an EU system to tackle IAS. It became apparent, however, that there is a need to revise the principles used to devise the list of species and acknowledge the importance of regional co-operation, which was strongly supported by most member states. The majority of member states, including the UK, indicated their opposition to capping the total number of IAS on the proposed list of Union concern. There was a large group of member states, including the UK, also in favour of extending measures to IAS native to the EU. The Commission recognised that a cap is problematic. It also noted the support for including non-EU IAS and agreed to consider if and how this could be achieved through existing provisions.
In other business, the presidency provided an update on the failure to reach agreement in the Energy Council of 12 December on the proposed directive to address the indirect land use change impacts of biofuels. The presidency then introduced the outcome of the 19th session of the conference of the parties to the UN framework convention on climate change (C0P19). Looking ahead at the timeline for developing the EU’s contribution, Germany, France, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden and the UK all emphasised the importance of the March Council and of the June ministerial meeting.
The presidency gave an update on the state of play and way forward on EU ETS/aviation. France, Germany, Finland and the UK all argued that the Commission’s proposal does not reflect the political nature of the issue and underlined the importance of making progress in the International Civil Aviation Organisation on a global solution. Also under other business, the Commission introduced its new proposal on plastic bags, which has been adopted in response to calls from the Council and the huge reaction to the Commission’s public consultation. I welcomed the flexibility included in the Commission’s proposal and highlighted the progress made nationally in reducing carrier bag usage. I also stressed the UK’s willingness to work together with other member states and the Commission to develop a truly biodegradable plastic bag.
Greece presented the work programme for its presidency. They hope to seek agreement on EU ETS/aviation, the shipment of waste, the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade and fluorinated gases. Ministers then broke for a working lunch, during which we discussed the post-2015 development framework.