Key green themes in the UK presidency

Climate change to dominate the presidency's environmental work programme

* CLIMATE CHANGE

Achieving agreement on an EU strategy on climate change to take account of the results of the Kyoto summit last month (ENDS Daily 11 December 1997) is the key objective of the UK presidency.

The UK has two broad aims. It wants to agree how much each member state will contribute towards the EU's legally binding target to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases by 8% by 2008-2012 (ENDS Daily 17 December 1997). "A great deal remains to be put into effect and frankly it will not be an easy task," environment minister Michael Meacher told journalists today.

The issue will be the central item on the environment council agenda in March but Mr Meacher said the UK would be "heroic" to pull off agreement in a single meeting. He would press for an agreement by June. The question of whether the EU might aim for a more ambitious target than 8% is on the agenda for March, but Mr Meacher said today that no member state had pushed for this so far.

The UK also has to forge a coordinated EU position for continuing international negotiations, in time for a further climate summit in Buenos Aires in November. The use of mechanisms such as emissions trading, carbon sinks and private sector investment in clean development were agreed in principle in Kyoto but Mr Prescott acknowledged that "there is a great fear that these may be used by countries to avoid their responsibilities". The UK would try to negotiate rules to overcome such fears with its partners in Europe and other industrialised countries through forthcoming G8 meetings.

* INTEGRATING TRANSPORT & ENVIRONMENT

Mr Prescott, who heads the UK's newly combined transport and environment department, is keen to share the experience with his EU counterparts. Two joint meetings of EU environment and transport ministers are scheduled - an informal gathering in Chester, UK, in April, and a formal council in Luxembourg in June.

The product is expected to be a set of conclusions on the priorities for future transport and environment policies, possibly setting the scene for new legislation. A pilot programme to test the use of cleaner vehicles in several key European cities will also be launched.

* CHEMICALS

The UK is considering making chemicals in the environment the theme of an informal meeting of environment ministers on 23 April. Mr Meacher pointed out that the EU has no general chemicals strategy and said he particularly wanted to discuss how to deal with "a small number of chemicals with damaging consequences" including dioxins, alkyl phenols and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Hormone disrupting chemicals would be specifically addressed. Such a discussion is likely to please the Swedish government which last year called for an overhaul of EU chemicals policy (ENDS Daily 20 October 1997).

* GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)

The European Commission last year published a proposal to revise a 1990 EU directive on the deliberate release of GMOs (ENDS Daily 27 November 1997). The UK has scheduled time for a first discussion of the Commission proposal's at the environment council in June. Mr Meacher said he thought the Commission's proposals improved the original directive, but that they did not address public concerns about the long-term safety of GMOs. He wanted ministers to discuss how this issue might be addressed through the GMO approval process.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3000.

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