UK, France hold key to Ospar progress

New governments expected to shift their positions at regional marine protection meeting

The UK and France are expected to accept tighter international controls to protect the marine environment next week, when officials from 15 European countries and the European Commission take part in the annual meeting of the Oslo and Paris (Ospar) Commissions.

Among the meeting's highlights will be proposed new policies to reduce discharges of hazardous substances and radioactivity. In both of these areas, French and British governments in power until this summer had opposed proposals favoured by other Ospar members. "We are very much looking forward to the positions of the UK and France," a Danish participant told ENDS Daily.

French and British nuclear reprocessing plants at La Hague, Sellafield and Dounreay will be in the spotlight during discussions on radioactivity. Five Ospar governments are calling for a generalised phase-out of radioactive discharges. Ireland and Denmark will also call for Sellafield's emissions of the radioactive isotope technetium-99 to be immediately reduced and ultimately eliminated.

Yesterday, Greenpeace described the Irish/Danish proposal as a "test" of both governments' "claims to place environmental protection at the top of their political agendas," and urged all Ospar members to vote in favour. "The UK and France have blocked progress on radioactivity and particularly on discharges from reprocessing," Helen Wallace of Greenpeace UK said. "We hope that the new government will take the issue more seriously."

At issue in hazardous substances discussions is whether the ultimate objective should be to eliminate harm to the marine environment or a more precautionary approach of eliminating entry into the environment - known as "zero-emissions". The issue was last discussed in April, at which time the UK opposed the stricter approach favoured by other countries (ENDS Daily 18 April).

Amongst other items on the table next week, officials expect to take forward rules for disposing of offshore installations. Developments in recent working groups have been "very positive," according to Ospar executive secretary Ben van de Wetering.

Mr van de Wetering also stresses the importance of further developing the emerging "objectives and strategies" approach now being adopted by Ospar. This is being applied across a range of issues, including not only hazardous substances, radioactivity, and offshore installations, but also eutrophication and species and habitats. Its importance, according to one participant, is that it brings together principles and practical tools in an "operational framework".

Overall, the Ospar meeting will be more low key than intended. It was to have been the first ministerial meeting of the 1992 Ospar convention (which will combine the Paris and Oslo agreements), but this segment has now been postponed to July next year because not all countries ratified the convention in time.

Follow Up:
Oslo and Paris Commissions , tel: +44 171 242 9927.

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