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Environment Council

Volume 591: debated on Wednesday 21 January 2015

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Amber Rudd) and I attended the EU Environment Council in Brussels on 17 December. Mark H Durkan, Minister of Environment in the Northern Irish Government and Richard Lochead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Food and Environment in the Scottish Government also attended.

After adopting the agenda for the meeting, Environment Ministers reached political agreement on the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon dioxide emissions from maritime transport. Both Finland and the Netherlands noted the importance of continuing to refine the parameters for the calculation of the energy efficiency of ships, while Malta, Cyprus and Greece opposed the agreement claiming that it would have a competitiveness impact on their industries.

Political agreement was also reached on the ratification package of the Doha amendment to the Kyoto protocol. The Commission supported by Spain, France, Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Malta and Belgium welcomed the Council’s agreement, and reiterated the importance of progressing with ratification nationally as well as at the European level. The Commission also noted its concern with the wording of a new recital regarding the Union’s responsibility for delivering emissions reductions, but did not oppose the package. Poland expressed its gratitude to Germany, Italy, Denmark and the UK for facilitating negotiation of the new package in the margins of the Lima conference.

Ministers then discussed the establishment and operation of a market stability reserve (MSR) for the EU greenhouse gas emission trading system (ETS). The UK supported by France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden set out the case for strengthening the Commission’s proposal by moving the start date forward to 2017 and placing backloaded allowances directly into the reserve, and noted the importance of these amendments in enabling the market to deliver the low-carbon investment needed most cost-effectively. The UK also noted the importance of the Commission coming forward quickly with proposals to further reform the EU and ETS, including the improvement of carbon leakage protection, once the MSR is agreed.

The Council confirmed an agreement previously reached in trilogue with the European Parliament and presidency on a directive for plastic bags. Ministers also agreed a general approach for a directive on medium combustion plants. However, Finland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Estonia abstained due to concerns that strict emission limit values would undermine the use of domestic fuel sources. The Netherlands also abstained over concerns that the text now lacked ambition. The Commission welcomed efforts made but regretted that the proposal had been weakened. The Latvian presidency said it aimed to secure a first reading agreement with the European Parliament.

The Commission welcomed the Council conclusions on an overarching and transformative post-2015 agenda and stressed the need for this universal agenda to be ambitious. Ministers continued the discussion on the post-2015 agenda over lunch.

Under any other business, Ministers discussed the chemicals policy on the road to a non-toxic environment. The UK argued that the EU chemicals regulation should be driven by wider impacts on a sustainable environment including the need for growth, not least for small and medium enterprises. Therefore, any regulatory controls should be proportionate and justified through a rigorous assessment of risk. Germany and Austria said the Council needed to address citizens’ concerns on endocrine disrupters, nano-materials and ensure that work carried out by industry under REACH was up to scratch. On the elimination of micro-plastics in products, the UK urged the use of voluntary measures.

In addition, the presidency and Commission summed up the progress made at the UNFCCC 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima in early December, noting the effective working with the EU and the overall success in terms of reaching the EU’s objectives. Looking ahead, the Commissioner noted the need to make progress ahead of COP21 in Paris in December 2015, particularly on the legal form of the 2015 agreement and on the differentiation of commitments between different parties.

Ministers also discussed the Commission Work Programme 2015. I welcomed the programme’s emphasis on better regulation and said that the UK was looking forward to working with the Commission, European Parliament and other member states to ensure a balanced package of proposals, particularly on air and the circular economy, that were ambitious and feasible for all member states. We registered our support for the national emissions ceilings directive and the Gothenburg protocol, urging the Commission to take forward proposals with urgency and indicated our willingness to work with the Commission to discuss modifications to ensure that the ceilings for 2030 would inject ambition based on evidence.