HC Deb 26 March 1998 vol 309 cc216-7W
Mr. Bill Michie

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Environment Council on 23 March. [36939]

Mr. Meacher

I chaired the first Environment Council of the UK Presidency on 23 March 1998. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), represented the UK.

I am happy to report a very satisfactory outcome with the Council reaching four common positions, agreeing four sets of Conclusions and making good progress on a number of other issues.

The Council agreed common positions on three directives: on landfill, emissions from light vans (part of the Commission's Auto-oil programme) and emissions of volatile organic compounds from certain industrial processes. These had been discussed and significant progress made under preceding Presidencies, but the Council had been unable to agree a common position in the absence of the European Parliament's opinion.

As part of a heavy climate change agenda, the Council reached common position on a revised mechanism for member states to monitor their CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The Council agreed conclusions on the Community's Strategy on climate change, which assess the outcome of the Kyoto Conference last December and set out the main priorities for work to be done on emissions trading and other matters before the next Conference of Parties in Buenos Aires in November. The Council also agreed conclusions authorising the Community to sign the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. On reducing CO2 emissions from passenger cars, the Council concluded that the recent ACEA offer could form the basis for further negotiation and called on the Commission to take this forward and report to the Council in June.

In discussion on the Recommendation on zoos, there was substantial support for the UK Presidency's compromise proposal for a legally binding directive. We shall now consider the best way forward in light of Member States' views.

Conclusions were agreed on the Community's positions in preparation for the Fourth Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and for the Sixth session of the Commission of Sustainable Development.

There was also a useful discussion of the Air Quality Daughter Directive which will improve ambient air quality standards for four main pollutants, NOx, SO2 lead and particulates. I gave progress reports on the Water Framework Directive and a proposal for a directive reducing the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels.

Over lunch, when the Deputy Prime Minister joined his colleagues, ministers had an informal discussion of climate change and discussed the environmental implications of Community enlargement.