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Environment Council

Volume 652: debated on Thursday 17 January 2019

I attended the EU Environment Council on 20 December in Brussels. Mairi Gougeon MSP, the Scottish Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment, also attended. I wish to update the House on the matters discussed.

C02 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles regulation—general approach

Council reached an agreed position (“general approach”) on the regulation on C02 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles. The European Commission had proposed an indicative 30% reduction in emissions by 2030, with a 15% reduction by 2025.

A full roundtable heard Ministers set out their respective positions. The UK intervened calling for greater ambition for 2030 and stressing the need to agree a strong overall package of measures. The presidency presented a revised proposal; the key element being a binding 2030 target, which was sufficient to achieve a general approach. One member state abstained.

Regulation on LIFE—partial general approach

The presidency introduced its compromise text for a partial general approach of the LIFE programme (the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the EU), to run from 2021-27. In this revised text, the presidency reintroduced the role of the LIFE committee and placed greater emphasis on geographical balance; member states welcomed the adoption of the partial general approach. While all could support the agreement, a number of member states intervened to restate their preference for higher co-financing rates.

“A Clean Planet for All”: a long-term strategy for EU greenhouse gas emissions reductions—exchange of views

The Commission introduced its long-term strategy on climate, which was published on 28 November 2018, which recommends that the EU aims for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, following which the Council held its first exchange of views. The Council agreed that the strategy should be discussed in multiple council formations in the coming months. Interventions focused on the aim for net zero-emissions, the importance of just transition, the recognition of specific national and regional circumstances, the contribution of technology to decarbonisation, and the role of national long-term strategies.

The UK intervened to highlight that the Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5 degrees underscored the urgency of tackling climate change, and welcomed the strategy as a serious response that also underlines the benefits of taking action, and stresses the need to ensure that no one is left behind in the transition. The UK highlighted the action being taken across the UK to tackle climate change, and the role of clean growth in the domestic industrial strategy. The UK welcomed the focus in the strategy on carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS), given its vital importance in reducing the costs of decarbonisation and the need for collaboration to scale up CCUS, and also highlighted the need to consider nature-based solutions.

AOB items

The following items were also discussed under any other business.

1. Report on recent international meetings: United Nations framework convention on climate change 24th session of the conference of the parties

The presidency, Commission, and Poland, which held the presidency of the 24th session of the conference to the parties (COP) to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), presented on COP24, which took place in Katowice, Poland, on 2 to 14 December 2018. The agreement of the rulebook underpinning the Paris agreement was welcomed as a significant achievement.

2. Report on the implementation of the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change

Council noted the information from the presidency.

3. The Graz Declaration”—Starting a new era: Clean, safe and affordable mobility for Europe

Council noted the presidency presentation on the Graz declaration, which was agreed at October informal Environment Council (29 and 30 October).

4. Measures at EU level to create the conditions for discontinuing the use of the environmentally problematic substances contained in plant protection products

Council noted the information from the Belgian delegation on plant protection products.

5. Intermediary sessions of the meeting of the parties to the convention on environmental impact assessment in a transboundary context (Espoo convention) and the protocol on strategic environmental assessment (SEA)

Lithuania, supported by Luxembourg, presented information concerning the draft recommendations of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Espoo Convention Implementation Committee regarding the Ostrovets new nuclear project in Belarus. These recommendations will be tabled for possible endorsement by the intermediary session of the meeting of the parties to the convention in February 2019.

6. Current legislative proposals

The presidency and the Commission provided an update on current environmental legislative proposals: regulation on taxonomy; directive on single-use plastics; the regulation on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (recast); the regulation on environmental reporting; the directive on drinking water (recast); and the regulation on C02 from cars and vans.

Several member states welcomed the proposals, in particular the progress on the single-use plastics directive. On the recast of the drinking water directive the Commission urged all member states to show flexibility and work together to make swift progress. The UK intervened to welcome the progress on single-use plastics, and outlined the work being done across the UK to tackle plastic waste. On drinking water, the UK noted the recent progress towards a compromise on materials in contact with drinking water, but indicated that there were still outstanding concerns, and on persistent organic pollutants (POPs), the UK intervened to support the Council position on Decabromodiphenyl ether (a flame retardant) and the existing approach for updating the annexes.

7. Report on recent international meeting—convention on biological diversity (CBD) and update from the UK on the London illegal wildlife conference

The Commission and presidency reported back on the recent international meeting on the convention on biological diversity (CBD), in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on 17 to 29 November. The UK intervened to welcome progress so far and to highlight the commitment that needs to be shown from Governments, civil society and business in order to develop an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework.

Following this, the UK gave a short update on the outcomes of the London illegal wildlife trade (IWT) conference held on 11 and 12 October 2018, outlining the importance of member states continuing to work together to tackle this important issue, and the need to treat IWT as a serious organised crime.

8. The future of European environment policy—Towards an 8th EU environment action programme

Council noted the information from the presidency on plans to develop an eighth EU environment action programme.

9. Environmental and climate ambition of the future CAP

Council noted the information from the German delegation, supported by the Luxembourg delegation.