Climate talks to top EU ministerial agenda

Transport and environment ministers prepare for last official meeting of UK presidency

The UK will chair the last meeting of EU environment ministers during its presidency next week, and the thorny issue of agreeing binding national targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions will top a heavy agenda.

Ministers will tackle the climate change issue first, at a dinner in Luxembourg on Monday evening. Officials predict that the meeting could last late into the night as the UK presidency says it is determined to reach an agreement despite tough negotiating stances taken by a number of countries (ENDS Daily 5 June).

More consensus is expected the following day when environment ministers should reach common positions on a two directives combating air pollution: one to limit sulphur levels in industrial oils and fuel oils (ENDS Daily 10 June); the other setting maximum levels for four pollutants in ambient air (sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, lead and particulates).

Ministers will also discuss the draft water framework directive, which will bring together existing EU laws on water pollution and will be the basis for future directives setting limits on chemical pollutants. According to officials, the ministerial working group which has been looking at the draft has made so much headway that the legislation will be ready for adoption by ministers before the end of the year, once the European Parliament has given its opinion.

According to Brussels diplomats, it is unlikely that environment ministers will issue an official statement on the voluntary offer from the European car manufacturers' association Acea to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from new cars. A number of countries are reported to be still uncomfortable with the offer, despite improvements from Acea since it first presented it in March. However, a majority is expected to call on the European Commission to push ahead with negotiations with the industry and produce a new offer in time for the next ministerial meeting in October.

On Wednesday, environment ministers will meet with their counterparts from transport ministries for a rare joint Council meeting. The UK's idea of bringing the two sets of ministers together is now set to be repeated by future presidencies, according to officials, though not at every Council meeting. During Wednesday's session, ministers are expected to ask the European Commission to supply them with regularly updated information on the environmental impacts of transport.

According to draft conclusions prepared for the joint Council seen by ENDS Daily, ministers will call on EU governments to use economic instruments such as higher road tolls and fuel tax to tackle growing demand for road transport. The wording of this document may be watered down because of resistance, particularly from southern states which fear an increase in the cost of importing and exporting goods in Europe.

Transport and environment ministers will also discuss the issue of aviation fuel taxation. They are likely to call on member states to push the International Civil Aviation Organisation to set international limits on emissions rather than deal with the issue at an EU level.

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

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