EU Environment Council round-up

First reading agreements reached on sustainable urban development, framework noise directive

EU environment ministers met in Brussels yesterday and today for their last regular meeting of the year, under the outgoing presidency of the charismatic French Green, Dominique Voynet. The meeting was dominated by yesterday's failure to agree a date for future global climate talks (ENDS Daily 18 December) but did produce two common positions, on relatively uncontentious issues.

Sustainable urban development:

A leftover from the Portuguese presidency, this initiative will see euros 14m spent over a four-year period from 2001 to improve the "conception, exchange and implementation" of good practice towards sustainable urban development. The figure is identical to the one demanded by the European Parliament last week (ENDS Daily 15 December) and the second reading of the law is thus expected to run smoothly.

Framework noise directive:

Ministers agreed on this law to introduce a common EU standard for noise measurement and harmonised noise level monitoring and mapping. The council decided to introduce a new EU noise indicator - dubbed "LDEN" - over a five-year transition period, while the European Commission's original proposal had not stipulated a date. But ministers fell short of demanding specific measures on particular noise sources.

Last week the European Parliament emphasised the "urgent" need for limits on airport noise, but did not back the introduction of a set of concrete limits proposed by its environment committee, as incorrectly reported by ENDS Daily. It did, however, call for daughter directives to be proposed within 18 months to set emission limits for noise from aircraft during take-off and landing, motorcycles, commercial road vehicles, and rail vehicles and tracks.

Global environmental governance:

France's "big idea" for its presidency has been overshadowed by the long-running major issues of genetically modified organisms and climate change; but ministers did today adopt a set of conclusions calling for the strengthening of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) into what they tentatively call a World Environment Organisation.

This could incorporate "all institutions with a largely environmental remit" and should introduce more coherence between multilateral environmental agreements, acting as a counterbalance to the World Trade Organisation, they say. A decision on concrete proposals is to be taken at the Gothenburg European Council next June, in time for the "Rio plus ten" conference of world governments in 2002.

Second auto/oil programme:

In a short statement, ministers reviewed the results of the second auto/oil programme of research into transport pollution emissions (ENDS Daily 9 October) and "applauded" the Commission's intention to launch a more integrated drive for better air quality under the banner of Clean Air For Europe (CAFE). In the future, they said, the Commission should "give thought" to the problems encountered by some member states with methyl butyl tertiary ether (MTBE) (ENDS Daily 22 March).

It should also "make continued efforts" to reduce emissions of "nano-particulates," "give consideration" to bringing emission limit values for diesel engines closer to those for petrol engines, encourage the "progressive and harmonised" introduction of fuels with the "lowest possible sulphur content" (ENDS Daily 25 May) and begin research on the feasibility of a new round of emission limit value reductions by 2010.

GMOs:

Ministers discussed a Commission working document on proposals for an comprehensive GMO labelling and traceability regime to complement the recently agreed revision of the EU's "deliberate release" directive (ENDS Daily 12 December). The proposals are the second element in a Commission plan to unblock the standstill in approvals of new GM products by the Council (ENDS Daily 27 November). Environment commissioner Margot Wallström said she hoped the "de facto moratorium" could be lifted soon after the proposals are made officially early next year.

Liability:

In an orientation debate on the Commission's white paper on civil liability for environmental damage ministers said the scope of a future directive should be extended to cover damage to biodiversity outside areas earmarked for EU protection under the Natura 2000 network. They also said a liability regime should include damage caused by GMOs and maritime transport vessels. A Commission proposal is tentatively scheduled for mid-2001.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; the official record of the meeting, with details of all other items on the agenda, will appear here tomorrow (Click on "Fr" if the document does not appear in the list of documents in English). See also a detailed background document, and a pre-meeting European Commission commentary.

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