UK announces EU presidency priorities

Environmental focus will be on climate change, air pollution, biodiversity, says ministry

UK environment officials are to focus efforts during the country's six-month presidency of the EU Council of Ministers on taking forward ministerial discussions on climate change, air pollution and biodiversity protection, the environment ministry has announced.

In answer to a parliamentary question late last week, junior environment minister Michael Meacher set out the bare bones of what the UK will try to do between January and June next year. A spokesperson for the environment ministry told ENDS Daily that little could be added to the brief statement at this stage.

Follow-up to the Kyoto agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will prove an immediate and politically charged obstacle to the incoming presidency. After the EU painfully stitched together agreement in March on national contributions to an overall EU emissions reduction target, the whole package must now be renegotiated (ENDS Daily 17 December).

The inclusion of three new gases in the "basket" controlled under the Kyoto protocol is expected to further complicate efforts to reach an agreement politically acceptable to all countries.

A second main area of work for the presidency flagged up by Mr Meacher is to be in the field of air pollution, including efforts to make progress on the European Commission's acidification strategy, draft directives to control emissions from light vans and from heavy lorries, and a draft directive aimed at reducing pollution by sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and particulates.

The acidification strategy looks set to cause the most problems, since several EU member states, including the UK, have already objected to the potential costs of meeting the environmental objectives sought by the Commission. The light vans directive, on the other hand, has already virtually been agreed and should pose few remaining problems.

Biodiversity is a third topic stressed by the ministry. The UK will prepare the EU position for the fourth meeting of parties to the UN biodiversity convention, to be held in Slovakia next May. Before then, ministers will discuss a draft EU strategy on biodiversity, which is expected from the Commission shortly.

One novel aspect of the UK's presidency term will be two joint meetings of environment and transport ministers, reflecting the UK's domestic priority on transport and environment issues and the recent merger of its transport and environment ministries. Mr Meacher formally announced the joint Council meetings due next year, though the government is still giving no further information on the likely detailed contents or aims of the sessions.

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

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