EU Debates Emissions Trading, GMOs, Marine Regs

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 9, 2002 (ENS) - Environment ministers from the 15 European Union countries are in Brussels today for their last meeting of the year and their second and final session under the Danish Presidency.

Two controversial legislative packages will dominate discussion - greenhouse gas emission trading and the tracing and labeling of product chains using genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Both will be debated publicly. Chemicals policy also features strongly on the agenda.

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Danish Environment Minister Hans Christian Schmidt (Photo by Lars Crone courtesy Danish Government)
Danish Minister for the Environment Hans Christian Schmidt said, "We are discussing new and extensive legislation in the two areas of environmental policy that concern the population of Europe the most. Negotiations are difficult, but we are making progress and I very much hope that we will succeed in reaching an agreement at the Council meeting."

EMISSIONS

Several obstacles must be overcome before the Danish presidency can announce a political agreement on emissions trading, though several parties involved in preliminary talks on the issue say there is a political will to reach an accord. Ministers will be deciding the rules for carbon dioxide emission trading among EU businesses until 2012.

New projections of greenhouse gas emissions to 2010 suggest the European Union is more likely than previously thought to approach or even exceed its UN Kyoto Protocol commitment to cut releases of six greenhouse gases.

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Car exhaust contributes to buildup of greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
Under the Kyoto Protocol the EU is required to cut greenhouse gas emissions by eight percent between 1990 and the average of 2008 to 2012. A study issued Friday by the European Environment Agency (EEA) suggests that with existing domestic policies and measures the bloc will achieve -4.7 percent. If additional measures are introduced the cut could be -12.4 percent.

These projections are rosier than previous official estimates. In addition the EEA projects, the European Union could still meet its legal obligations regarding the eight percent cut even if its own emissions reductions fall short of this, by counting carbon sinks and making use of the Kyoto Protocol's flexible mechanisms - emission trading, joint implementation and the clean development mechanism.

The study also underlines potentially destabilizing national and sectoral variations in emission trends.

GMOS

Last week's agriculture council decided the important issue of maximum tolerance thresholds for labeling GM content in non-GM products. Environment ministers will now concentrate on settling an argument over the labeling of mixed bulk shipments of GMOs destined to be processed into food or animal feed.

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Grain carrier at the Southhampton Docks. If the grain originates in the United States, it may be composed of unlabeled genetically engineered grain mixed with traditional grain. (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
The European Commission and UK government want a derogation from labeling rules allowing shipments to carry the formulation "may contain GMOs," with a list of possible contents. They say this will restrict trade tensions with GM producing countries without compromising the labeling of final consumer products.

But several member states led by France want a much stricter formulation requiring all ingredients to be named. The Danish Presidency is proposing a compromise wording that would require labeling of all GMOs that have been used to create the mixture.

The debate, which began during discussions in last October's council on the Cartagena Protocol, has taken on a bitter edge and some observers say an agreement is unlikely to be reached.

CHEMICALS

The Danish Presidency will be hoping to influence the Commission's anticipated proposals for a review of the EU chemicals policy with a public ministerial debate on the subject. A short council statement on the subject may also be agreed, but detailed council conclusions are unlikely.

There will be a set of policy conclusions ahead of the 22nd meeting of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council, due to discuss chemical substances, but the adoption of two laws to implement the UN Rotterdam Convention on hazardous chemical exports has been delayed.

Though the substance of these two laws has been agreed, Austria and Belgium have expressed reservations on the final text. The presidency has postponed final adoption to prevent any debate on the package eating into time allocated for the two main discussions of the day.

MARITIME SAFETY

The council will respond to a recent European Commission policy paper on pesticides. Progress reports will outline the state of play on talks to create an EU environmental liability regime. A budget for an EU forest protection program will be agreed. The commission will make presentations of several recent policy packages - on nuclear safety, a revision of the bathing water directive, and protection of the marine environment.

Also on the agenda is the major oil disaster on November 19, where the single-hulled tanker "Prestige" sank off the northwest coast of Spain, spilling some 15,000 tons of heavy fuel oil into environmentally sensitive Atlantic waters. The oil has fouled at least 120 kilometers (75 miles) of the Spanish coast, closing formerly pristine fishing grounds and leaving dead and dying wildlife everywhere it touched land.

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One of thousands of oiled birds caught in the "Prestige" oil spill (Photo © John Cunningham)
A parallel meeting of EU transport ministers wound up Friday with a statement recognizing that changes strongly supporting the accelerated phaseout of single-hulled tankers to be signed by July 1, 2003, and agreeing that heavy grades of oil shall only be transported in double-hulled tankers.

Both council meetings are preparatory to the European Council in Copenhagen set for December 12 and 13. The Heads of State or Government of the EU will convene to consider all these issues. The main issues before the European Council will be the enlargement of the European Union by 13 new countries and functional procedures of the Council in the light of the enlargement.

The Danish Presidency says that the European Council can complete the enlargement negotiations with 10 countries: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. After the conclusion of the negotiations, the accession treaty, a 6,000 page tome, must also be completed.

It is expected that the Accession Treaty will be signed in Athens in April 2003.

The Copenhagen European Council will decide on a ”package” for Bulgaria and Romania with a view to strengthening the membership prospects for these two countries. According to the conclusions of the Brussels European Council, the ”package” is to contain detailed roadmaps for the negotiations and increased pre-accession support.

Last, the Copenhagen European Council will decide on the next phase of Turkey’s candidature.

All countries that accede to the European Union will be bound by the same environmental laws and regulations as the original 15 EU Member States.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}