Climate, car CO2 limits to top EU ministerial

Environment ministers to adopt five common positions in first meeting under UK presidency

EU environment ministers are to hold their first formal discussions on the post-Kyoto climate policy agenda on Monday, when they gather in Brussels for their quarterly Environment Council meeting.

National officials have been negotiating since the Kyoto protocol was agreed in December. On Monday, ministers will take stock of progress on three main fronts. The first, which has been the main focus of the talks so far, is the position the EU should take on flexibility mechanisms such as emissions trading when international talks re-start this summer.

Officials have also been discussing what collective and individual targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions the EU and its members should adopt, and what collective policies and measures EU countries should undertake to achieve them. Green groups monitoring the talks say that progress on these fronts has been minimal and accuse ministers of complacency.

The future of a proposed voluntary agreement with car makers on reducing average carbon dioxide emissions from new cars is expected to be the second main focus of Monday's meeting. Ministers have been strongly tipped to give the European Commission approval to continue negotiations with EU car makers after a last minute new offer from the industry reduced the chances of threatened mandatory limits (ENDS Daily 19 March).

However, the prospective deal is not expected to be given a carte blanche. Last week's offer by the car industry has not been formally transmitted to the Council in writing. In addition, Council sources describe several of the conditions placed on any deal by car makers as "out of the question".

The Council is expected to result in formal agreement on a swathe of new EU environmental legislation. Common positions are scheduled to be reached on five proposals - something of a rarity for the first Environment Council meetings in a presidency term.

* A common position on the landfill directive is expected to largely follow the lines of the Council's December political agreement, though Council sources indicate that a parliamentary amendment will be accepted to require records to be kept on types of waste going to landfills excluded from the directive's provisions.

* Ministers also plan to reach a common position on the van emissions directive, the third in a series of four proposals made by the European Commission under the Auto/Oil programme. Since the Council's position is expected to mirror aspects of the car emissions directive that have been hotly disputed by the European Parliament the common position is likely to lead to conciliation talks between the two institutions later this year.

* Further common positions are to be reached on a directive to limit emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from industrial solvent use, on a revision to the regulation governing the European Environment Agency, and on a modified decision on the EU's monitoring system for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

* Ministers are to hold a public orientation debate on the a directive to set tighter air quality standards for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and lead - the first daughter directive to be proposed under the 1996 air quality framework directive.

* The Council will also take stock of progress on other measures in the EU legislative pipeline. These include the water framework directive, a directive to limit sulphur in certain liquid fuels, and the EU position on biodiversity in preparation for the fourth meeting of signatories to the UN convention on biodiversity, to be held in Bratislava, Slovenia, in May.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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