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Brussels, 18 December 2006

Environment: Commission welcomes Council action on REACH, climate change and marine protection

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas welcomed the outcome of today's Environment Council which adopted the new Regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restrictions of chemicals (REACH), reached political agreement on the framework directive for EU action on marine environment policy and adopted conclusions on climate change. REACH, a single EU regulatory system for chemical substances, will improve the protection of citizens' health and the environment. The marine framework directive aim to ensure that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021 and it is the main component of the Thematic Strategy on the protection and conservation of the marine environment, which the Commission adopted in October 2005. . On climate change, the Council stressed the need to significantly accelerate global negotiations on a post-2012 agreement, with a view to completing them by the end of 2009 at the latest. The EU's vision and leadership is required now more than ever.

Commissioner Dimas said: "REACH is currently the most ambitious chemicals legislation in the world and a marked improvement over the current situation. More information will be available about substances in everyday products and it is expected that most dangerous substances will be progressively substituted with safer alternatives. This will help improve citizens' health and avoid environmental damages. REACH will also encourage innovation in the chemicals industry and increase consumer confidence in their products".

The Council approved the compromise agreed with the European Parliament on REACH, which will enter into force on 1 June 2007. The regulation will require the registration over a period of 11 years of some 30 000 chemical substances in use today. It is expected that the most dangerous among them will be progressively phased out and replaced by safer substances. The day-to-day management of the new requirements will be the responsibility of the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to be set up in Helsinki.

Marine strategy directive

Commission Dimas also welcomed the political agreement reached by Council on the framework directive for EU action on marine environment policy. The Council's position takes on board several of the points raised by the European Parliament (the importance of co-operation and coordination between Member States and non-EU countries, the ecosystem approach, etc.). However, the Commission regrets that the Council's position is not as ambitious as the Commission's initial proposal, especially as regards the binding nature of the "good environmental status" objective.

Commissioner Dimas said: "Today's political agreement is a major step towards a better protection of our oceans and seas through the adoption of the Marine Strategy Directive. While I regret that the Council has not been more ambitious, I am pleased that the Council fully recognises the strong need for a European integrated approach to protect our oceans and seas more effectively. Swift adoption of the Marine Strategy Directive is a priority if we are to ensure that European citizens benefit from seas and oceans that are safe, clean, healthy and rich in nature. This is also a pre-condition for the maritime economy to thrive".

Climate change

Commissioner Dimas also welcomed the Council's conclusions on climate change and today's exchange of views on the way forward in tackling this major challenge.

"Last month's UN conference in Nairobi made solid progress, but it was clear to everyone around the Council table today that the political momentum of the international talks must be stepped up significantly. To keep global warming to tolerable levels we need an ambitious new international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to reach it urgently so there will be no gap when the Kyoto targets expire in 2012. The EU's vision and leadership is required now more than ever. We will provide important new impetus for the international debate over the coming months, starting with the Commission's major package of climate and energy proposals next month, which will be taken up at the Spring European Council in March, said Commissioner Dimas."

The Council conclusions welcome the results of the Nairobi conference (see IP/06/1584) and stress that the effects of climate change may have major implications for national and world security in terms of the growing intensity and frequency of natural disasters, water scarcity, drought, and famine and land degradation.

Commissioner Dimas reiterated that global emissions will have to be cut to half of the 1990 levels by the middle of this century if the EU's objective of limiting the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2ºC is to be met. He underlined the importance for the EU's credibility of meeting its Kyoto targets and ensuring the success of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme as the driver of the global carbon market, which in turn should be at the core of post-2012 cooperation. Innovative new financing instruments will also need to be found to ensure that new energy investments over the next two decades are as clean as possible.

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