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| Council meeting advances EU sustainability policy

The environment was the centrepiece of the Council meeting on 3 March 2008. The Council adopted conclusions focusing on climate change and energy, halting biodiversity loss, environmental technologies, and sustainable consumption and production. The conclusions were submitted to the spring European Council. The Council also held policy debates on the Climate Action and Renewable Energy (CARE) package, and on a proposal aimed at reducing CO2 emissions from cars. Finally, the Council adopted conclusions on biodiversity and biosafety in preparation for upcoming international conferences.

Climate Change and Energy

The Council expressed its support for the outcome of the Bali Climate Conference and underlined its commitment to the ongoing negotiating process which will be concluded by December 2009. Ministers emphasised that a shared vision, including a global long-term goal for emission reductions, is essential.

There was also a consensus among ministers that the transformation of the European economy through the development of new and energy-efficient technologies would strengthen European competitiveness, and drive growth and job creation. The Council, therefore, came out strongly in support of the Climate Action and Renewable Energy package (CARE). CARE is a set of proposals designed to deliver on the ambitious commitments for limiting climate change and developing the renewable energy sector. Central to the strategy is a strengthening and expansion of the Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Ministers approved of the proposed new design features of the EU ETS, such as the use of auctioning to enhance cost-effectiveness.

The Council would like to see a coherent, final CARE package before the end of 2008 and its adoption by early 2009 at the latest.

The Council held a policy debate on a draft regulation setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars. Delegations supported the target of 120 g CO2/km by 2012 as outlined in the integrated approach proposed by the Commission.

Cost-efficiency was considered the key to maintaining and strengthening competitiveness while meeting targets. It would allow the EU to meet even more ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 50% or more by 2050.

In view of the recent controversy relating to biofuels, the Council reiterated its support for binding targets for their use. The ministers emphasised, however, that this was “subject to production being sustainable…and second generation biofuels becoming commercially available”.

Halting Biodiversity Loss

The Council stressed the need to achieve greater synergies between climate change and biodiversity policies. Forests, for example, provide valuable ecosystem services in the form of green house gas absorption as well as habitat for diverse animal and plant species, and biodiversity in turn helps to maintain the health of forests. The Council encouraged Member States and the Commission to strengthen efforts aimed at halting biodiversity loss by 2010, referring specifically to the implementation of actions included in the Communication on Halting the Loss of Biodiversity by 2010 – and Beyond, and full implementation of the Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas, both on land and at sea.

Environmental Technologies

The Council highlighted environmental technologies and eco-innovation as potentially providing new impetus to the Lisbon Strategy. These technologies can reduce pressure on the environment as well as improve energy and resource efficiency.

Ministers also responded favourably to the Commission’s Lead Market Initiative. The initiative will foster the development of innovation-friendly markets in areas such as sustainable construction, bio-based products, recycling and renewable energy.

Sustainable Consumption and Production

The Council noted that sustainable consumption and production is one of the key challenges for the EU. Ministers welcomed the Commission’s intention to present a Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan and an Action Plan on Sustainable Industrial Policy as early as possible in 2008.

Green Public Procurement was also advanced as a way of promoting sustainable consumption and production. The Council proposed setting targets so that the EU and Member States reach, by 2010, an EU average level of Green Public Procurement equivalent to that currently achieved by the best performing Member States.

Convention on Biological Diversity

In preparation of the ninth ordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 9) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Bonn, 19 to 30 May 2008), the Council adopted several conclusions. Chief among them was to proclaim the urgent need for vigorous efforts to achieve the global 2010 biodiversity target. For its part, the Council committed the EU to fully implement the Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas.

Other important recommendations were:

  • that COP 9 explore new financial means for supporting the implementation of the CBD, such as the concept of payments for ecosystem services.
  • that COP 9 adopt a set of ecological criteria for identifying marine areas in the high seas in need of protection;
  • that the EU develop a strategy on invasive alien species and an effective early warning system.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

After four years of intensive negotiation, the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety agreed to work towards legally binding rules and procedures for liability and redress. The procedures would apply to potential damage caused from the transboundary movements of living modified organisms (LMOs), commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The 2000 participants attending the Bonn Biosafety Meeting in May 2008, the largest ever gathering on biosafety, agreed to a time table and a framework for the negotiation of the rules and procedures. The legally binding instrument for liability and redress will be discussed in October 2010 at the next meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, in Nagoya, Japan.



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  • Contacts in DG Research
    Directorate Environment
    (including climate change)
    Tel +32 2 29 68 958/90606.