Wallström to snub European clean air deal

Commissioner turns up the heat on EU countries in an effort to secure bigger emissions cuts

EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström will tomorrow refuse to sign a pan-European agreement to improve air quality, it emerged today. The move underlines her disapproval of EU states that have volunteered lower air pollution cuts under the agreement than the Commission is seeking for them under the parallel draft directive on national emissions ceilings (NECs). Ms Wallström feels the aims of the directive could be jeopardised if the Commission is seen to endorse more lax targets for EU countries under the UN/ECE "multi-pollutant" protocol, a source told ENDS Daily.

The protocol was finalised in Geneva in September (ENDS Daily 2 September) and is due to be formally signed tomorrow in Gothenburg, Sweden. It sets annual national emission ceilings for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH3), to be met by 2010.

The limits aim to drastically reduce acidification, eutrophication and the formation of ground-level ozone and are "the most sophisticated environmental agreement ever negotiated," according to the UN/ECE. The protocol was agreed by 33 European countries plus the USA and Canada. The European Commission represented the EU as a separate entity at the talks. Its refusal to sign the protocol is unlikely to prevent it from entering into force, which requires ratifications from only 16 parties.

As the UN/ECE talks were progressing, the Commission proposed EU national emission ceilings for the same pollutants (ENDS Daily 9 June). Austria, Finland, Denmark and Greece have pledged exactly the same emissions cuts under the UN/ECE protocol that are being sought from them under the draft directive. However, most other EU countries have proposed weaker targets.

Ms Wallström's move follows threats voiced privately by officials in the EU's environment directorate before the first ministerial debate on the NECs directive last month (ENDS Daily 12 October). There, several southern EU states refused to contemplate the stricter limits being proposed, while a number of countries stressed that they would have difficulty in meeting the UN/ECE targets.

After the ministerial meeting Ms Wallström said that the prospects for agreement along the lines of the Commission's proposal were "not overall encouraging". She pledged to persuade countries to show "solidarity" and commit to meet the higher targets. The refusal to sign the Geneva agreement is an unusually bold step in that strategy.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; UN/ECE, tel: +41 22 917 44. References: Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution.

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