Top themes this month

One of the main highlights of December will be the UN talks on climate change in Bali, Indonesia.
In the EU the Portuguese presidency will try to broker a political agreement among governments on plans to include aviation in Europe’s emission trading scheme, and on a proposed soil protection framework directive. Environment ministers are also expected to discuss plans to revise the road transport fuels directive.
Ministers and government officials of the 191 countries that are parties to the UN climate change convention (UNFCCC) will meet in Bali from 3-14 December to discuss action to tackle climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto protocol’s emission targets expire.
The EU’s negotiating position on a successor to the Kyoto protocol was adopted at the end of October. Apart from agreeing a post-2012 climate framework by 2009, the bloc wants industrialised countries to make deeper emission cuts while emerging economies would make “new and flexible commitments” to reduce their carbon intensity. But it is asking for more than it will get (see p 11).
On 20 December EU environment ministers will meet to discuss a number of legislative proposals.
The Portuguese presidency will attempt to arrange a political agreement among governments on plans to include aviation in Europe’s emission trading scheme. In November MEPs voted to toughen European commission proposals by backing an earlier start date, a tighter emission cap and more auctioning of allowances (see p 3).
Governments agree almost unanimously on the idea. But a majority is opposed to the commission’s plan to restrict emissions trading to intra-EU flights in the first year and extend it to all flights only after this 12-month period. It should immediately apply to all flights landing and taking off at EU airports to minimise competitive distortions, they say.
So far there is no consensus on when aviation should be included in the European scheme. Some member states such as the Netherlands say all flights should be included from 2011. Others including Belgium, Poland and Spain argue for 2013.
Environment ministers are also expected to reach a deal on a proposed soil protection framework directive. They look set to weaken key elements in the proposal. Governments want all references to countries identifying geographical “risk areas” to be replaced by the weaker formulation of “priority areas”. This was backed by the European parliament in November (see p 7). They also want greater flexibility to decide how to deal with areas at risk of soil degradation. MEPs also support this.
Other discussions at the meeting will include a proposal to revise the road transport fuels directive. The parliament’s environment committee strengthened the proposal last month (see p 4). But ministers have significant concerns about plans to set fuel suppliers a target to cut life-cycle carbon emissions from road fuels. The Portuguese presidency had initially planned to broker a deal before the end of the year. But it had to abandon its hopes.
Energy ministers will meet on 3 December. They are expected to discuss a European strategic technology plan unveiled by the commission in November (see p 1), which aims to support and coordinate efforts across Europe to accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies. Plans to boost large energy projects will be launched in six areas: wind, solar energy, bioenergy, carbon capture, electricity grids and nuclear fission.
On 6 December justice ministers are expected to discuss a draft directive to harmonise EU penalties for serious environmental offences. The commission initially called for ten-year prison sentences and fines of over €1m for the most serious offences. But it had to back down after the European court of justice ruled it could not propose penalties for punishing offences (see p 7). Discussions will now focus on which offences should be classified as crimes across the bloc.
Other issues
In parliament MEPs are expected to hold a debate in second reading on a draft EU directive on ambient air quality. Rapporteur MEP Holger Krahmer proposed to relax key elements of the proposal to tempt EU governments into a compromise. But the parliament’s environment committee set the assembly on a collision course with governments after opting for tigher limits on fine particulate pollution and longer implementation guidelines than EU states wanted. MEPs will also vote on a proposed marine strategy framework directive.

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