HL Deb 18 October 2000 vol 617 cc95-4WA
Baroness Gould of Potternewton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Environment Council on 12 October. [HL4276]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment represented the UK at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 10 October 2000. This was the first Environment Council under the French Presidency. One common position and two sets of Council conclusions were agreed, and a public orientation debate was held on a proposed environmental noise directive.

Agreement was reached on a Daughter Directive under the Air Quality Framework Directive to set target values and long-term objectives for ground-level ozone, to protect human health and the environment. By 2010, member states will have to attain as far as possible ground-level air ozone concentrations that do not exceed 120 microgrammes per cubic metre on more than 25 days per annum. Some flexibility will be allowed in recognition of the difficulty of reducing ozone formation. The agreement reached is based on the World Health Organisation guideline values and a closely related EC proposal setting national emissions ceilings for ozone precursor pollutants. The directive also lays down monitoring requirements and provides for dissemination of information to the public.

Council conclusions were agreed on common and co-ordinated policies and measures which could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to ensure that the EU and its member states meet their Kyoto targets. These build on previous Council conclusions, and give guidance to the Commission, and the work of the European Climate Change Programme, on priority areas for action, including transport, renewable energy, combined heat and power, the elimination of environmentally damaging subsides, and economic instruments. The Presidency also reported the outcome of the Lyons subsidiary bodies' meeting on climate change in October. An extraordinary Environment Council on 7 November 2000 will prepare for the forthcoming sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP6), taking place between 13–24 November 2000.

The Presidency gave a progress report on global environmental governance, and a short set of procedural Council conclusions were agreed. Ministers agreed that further consideration of options for improving the existing institutional arrangements was needed and that financing was a central issue. My right honourable friend stressed the importance of a step by step approach, and the need to secure developing countries' commitment to change. The Presidency plans to develop conclusions for adoption at the December Environment Council to guide EU involvement at UNEP's Administrative Council in February and the build-up to Rio + 10.

A public orientation debate was held on a proposed directive to establish common methods for measuring and assessing environmental noise, in order to collate and map comprehensive information about noise exposure levels across the EU. Ministers recognised the significance of noise as a health and quality of life issue and broadly welcomed the proposal, which would enable accurate comparisons of noise levels in all member states to be made. In noting the importance of taking action to reduce noise levels, most commented that plans were already provided for at the national or local level and stressed the importance of local solutions. The Presidency indicated that it intends to reach a common position on this proposal at the December Environment Council.

The Presidency gave progress reports on two related directives which aim to increase re-use, recovery and recycling rates of waste from, and limit the use of certain hazardous substances in, electrical and electronic equipment. The Presidency aims to reach common position in December, subject to the European Parliament delivering its opinion before then. The Commission updated Council on the development of its planned proposals on the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are expected later this year.

There were a large number of any other business items. Ministers agreed to consider Council conclusions at the extraordinary Environment Council in November setting out the EU position on the revision to the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Germany proposed that the European Commission should prepare for the early transposition into Community law of the International Maritime Organisation global ban on organotins in marine anti-fouling paints, and the Commission should also submit proposals for extending restrictions on the marketing and use of organotins in a range of consumer goods, such as textiles. They also called for prohibition on the use of the azo-dye Navy Blue. The Austrian delegation reminded Council of its concerns about the Temelin nuclear power station in the Czech Republic; the Italian delegation called for a joint Environment/Transport Council to resolve measures to tighten rules on oil tanker safety; and the Finnish delegation outlined its environmental concerns about the construction of a new oil terminal at Primorsk in Russia.

The Presidency updated Council on a proposed resolution on the Precautionary Principle, to be submitted to the Nice European Council in December, and on preparations for the Intergovernmental Conference for the Cartagena Protocol in Biosafety, also taking place in December. The Presidency indicated plans for further ministerial debate on the Commission's White Paper on environmental liability in December.

Other items included Commission progress reports on revised guidelines on state aids and the environment and the introduction of environmental requirements into public procurement guidelines. The Commission also briefly presented its Green Paper on the environmental issues of PVC, its Communication on water pricing policy, and its Communication on integrated coastal zone management.