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Environment Council

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2015

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart) and I attended the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 15 June. Dr Aileen McLeod, Scottish Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform also attended.

Ministers held a policy debate on the national emissions ceilings directive. The UK expressed support for the Commission’s ambition to halve the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution. Other member states expressed similar support. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, however, noted proposed 2030 targets needed to be realistic given uncertainty around some of the assumptions underpinning them. The UK supported the deletion of methane from the Council’s text. Regarding other pollutants, the UK was among other member states that raised concerns about specific targets including ammonia, nitrous oxides and particulate matter. Some suggested the 2030 targets should be indicative while most called for firm binding targets.

The Commission welcomed the broad support for the headline health improvement target and reiterated that it was open to addressing specific national concerns about the 2030 targets, but strongly opposed the suggestion for indicative targets. The Commission were hopeful that a first reading agreement would be possible.

Ministers expressed views on the road to the United Nations framework convention on climate change, 21st conference of the parties in Paris this year (UNFCCC CoP 21). The Commission and some member states raised the importance of further outreach to allies, the legal form, agreeing a five-year cycle of review of mitigation commitments and a long-term goal, developing a finance package and moving towards parity between mitigation and adaptation elements of the deal. I emphasised the importance of ensuring the EU had flexibility to negotiate on both adaptation and finance, and pursuit of a robust review process both to ensure the adequacy of the agreement and public confidence. All member states called for more parties to present their mitigation pledges, or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), as quickly as possible. Some member states indicated concern regarding specific dates or numbers within a long-term goal and that parity between mitigation and adaptation would create false expectations.

The presidency concluded that draft Council conclusions would be prepared shortly for adoption at the additional Environment Council on 18 September.

Under any other business the presidency and Commission noted the successful negotiation of a provisional agreement in the European Parliament on the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) market stability reserve decision, a first step in putting the carbon market back on track. The Council noted information provided by the Commission on recent international meetings, on the European fund for strategic investments and by Portugal on the Lisbon charter on drinking water. Luxembourg as the in-coming presidency presented its priorities.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed further detail on the preparations for the Paris summit.