EU Environment Council round-up

Deals reached on lorry pollution, CO2 from cars, vehicle efficiency labelling, ozone depleting chemicals

EU environment ministers rounded off Austria's term as EU presidency yesterday with key political agreements aimed at cutting air pollution from road traffic and phasing out further ozone-depleting substances. Meeting in the quarterly EU Environment Council, ministers also pushed forward debates on the management of scrap cars and of genetically modified organisms (see separate article in this issue).

HGV emissions limits:

The highlight of the talks was a political agreement reached on polluting emissions from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), as part of the EU's Auto/Oil programme. In particular, ministers agreed to set binding emissions targets not just for 2000, as envisaged in the original Commission proposal, but also two stages of stricter standards to enter into force in 2005 and 2008. In so-doing, the Council may thus have avoided the kind of damaging inter-institutional dispute with the European Parliament that held up agreement on preceding Auto/Oil directives by many months (ENDS Daily 30 June).

The main emissions limits agreed yesterday are as follows, including a special tier for "extra-low emissions vehicles" or EEVs:

-------------------------------------------------
Limit values for diesel engines (ESC & ELR tests)
               CO     HC     NOx     PT    SMOKE
-------------------------------------------------
1/10/1999     1.5    0.25    2.0    0.02    0.15  
 (EEVs only)
1/10/2000     2.1    0.66    5.0    0.10    0.80
1/10/2005     1.5    0.46    3.5    0.02    0.50
1/10/2008     1.5    0.46    2.0    0.02    0.50
-------------------------------------------------
CO = carbon monoxide, HC = hydrocarbons, NOx =
nitrogen oxides, PT = particulates.
All figures are g/kWh except smoke (m-1).
------------------------------------------------
According to the Council of Ministers, the deal will mean a 30% cut in pollution from new lorries and buses in 2000 compared with current levels and a reduction by half in 2005. The Council also stresses that the limits adopted for 2005 and 2008 will require all diesel-powered HGVs to be fitted with exhaust cleaning equipment such as catalytic converters and particulate traps.

Strategy on car CO2 emissions:

In a second push on emissions from road transport, ministers reached political agreements on monitoring of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new passenger cars and on consumer labelling of cars' fuel economy.

The "draft common position" on CO2 monitoring, which now goes to the European Parliament for a second reading, is intended to help assess the effectiveness of EU actions to limit CO2 emissions from cars and to improve fuel economy. Member states will be required to gather data, which will be aggregated by the Commission to form an annual report.

The directive on vehicle fuel consumption information is aimed at providing consumers with comparable data on CO2 emissions of new cars. As agreed by ministers, the law will require points of sale to display information on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions on all models on display; manufacturers will have to include similar information in all promotional literature, including advertising; and member states will publish annual fuel economy guides, including "prominent listing" of the 10 most fuel-efficient models.

Also coming under the EU strategy for reducing CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles, ministers expressed disappointment yesterday over ongoing negotiations between the European Commission and Japanese and South Korean car makers. The talks are meant to consolidate a ground-breaking voluntary agreement reached between the EU and European car makers (ENDS Daily 6 October). The Council asked for a further progress report from the Commission for its March 1999 meeting.

Ozone-depleting substances:

Resolving a north-south tussle between member states, ministers reached a political agreement on phasing out remaining ozone-depleting substances which will see production and consumption of the soil fumigant methyl bromide authorised for four years longer than proposed by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 8 December).

Compared with 1991 levels, the agreement foresees a 60% cut in methyl bromide production and consumption by 2001, a 75% cut in 2003 and a phase-out in 2005. Use of methyl bromide for quarantine and pre-shipment will continue to be exempted, but at limited volumes.

New controls will also be introduced on hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which were largely introduced as substitutes for more ozone depleting CFCs but production of which is now to be phased out in 2025. Before then, ministers agreed on a production freeze at current levels from 2000 to 2008, plus a review of the phase-down schedule in 2002. Phase-out of marketing and use of HCFCs in the EU is foreseen by 2009.

End-of-life vehicles management:

Ministers held an orientation on the Commission's proposal for a directive on the management of end-of-life vehicles, having been prevented from reaching a more formal agreement by the European Parliament's refusal to complete its first reading before the end of the year (ENDS Daily 25 November).

According to the Council, all member states signalled that they could "subscribe to essential elements" in a presidency compromise text, which seeks to overcome several disagreements between governments on the dossier (ENDS Daily 16 December). The Council will now wait for the Parliament to give the directive a first reading before reaching a final position.

Chemicals policy:

The Council adopted a short set of conclusions responding to a report by the European Commission on ways to update and improve the EU's management of chemical risks (ENDS Daily 19 November). Ministers stressed that development of an "integrated and coherent" approach would require "adequately reflecting the precautionary principle and the principle of sustainability" as well as clarifying the responsibilities of EU authorities, national governments and industry.

Climate:

Ministers held a broad-ranging discussion on climate policy on Sunday night, before the full Environment Council session began, reviewing the outcome of the Buenos Aires international talks in November and setting out key priorities for future work by the EU.

According to Council conclusions adopted at the meeting, member states agreed to deepen contacts with other governments, particularly in developing countries, in preparation for future negotiating rounds on the UN climate change convention and the Kyoto protocol. Ministers also agreed to further develop a comprehensive strategy on EU policies and measures, including work to achieve a framework for energy taxation.

Negotiations with new member states:

The Environment Council marked a virtual end to a series of negotiations over EU environmental standards following the accession of Finland, Austria and Sweden in 1995, sparked by higher standards already in place in each of the new states.

Ministers welcomed a report by the European Commission summarising the talks, in which the three states won the right to maintain virtually all existing rules and the EU agreed to match them (ENDS Daily 14 December). Regarding certain Austrian and Swedish chemicals labels, on which agreement had not been reached, ministers reached a political agreement allowing a further two year derogation to the two countries pending a review of EU legislation.

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

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