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Brussels, 15 March 2010

Preparation Environment Council, 15 March 2010

The first Environment Council under the Spanish Presidency will be held on 15 March in Brussels. Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik and Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard will represent the European Commission. The Council will begin by adopting conclusions on the EU's post-2010 biodiversity policy, and on a global vision, targets and the international regime for sharing the benefits of biodiversity. The Council will then discuss a progress report on the Soil Framework Directive, which has already been discussed many times in the Council, but appears to have reached a political impasse. A discussion of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth will then ensue, with a particular focus on the green elements of the strategy. Ministers will be invited to adopt conclusions on the follow-up to the Copenhagen climate change conference, before hearing the views of the Mexican State Secretary for Climate Change. The afternoon will feature a policy debate on CO2 emissions from light commercial vehicles.


The Council is due to agree conclusions on biodiversity, covering both domestic concerns in the wake of the failure to reach the 2010 target, and international aspects of biodiversity such as the international regime for sharing the benefits of biodiversity. The conclusions should set a long-term vision and an ambitious target that will ultimately provide a foundation on which to build Europe’s post-2010 policy. Discussions are expected to centre on the EU 2050 long-term vision and the potential costs associated with restoring ecosystems.

The Soil Framework Directive

The Soil Framework Directive has been presented in Council on a number of occasions, but opposition from a blocking minority (which includes Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Austria and Malta) has constantly hampered its progress. Less than a dozen Member States currently have specific legislation on soil protection, most of it limited to contamination. The Spanish Presidency has been making considerable efforts to advance this file, and will present a progress report informing Member States about a less stringent proposal that seeks to accommodate the concerns of the blocking Member States, and the prospects for a future agreement.

Europe 2020 Strategy

The Commission will present the new Europe 2020 strategy to the Council, before inviting the Council to reflect on two questions. The strategy is a follow-up to the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs, and it aims to map a path towards a knowledge-based, more innovative, more resource-efficient economy by focusing on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Ministers will be asked to share their views on how environmental policies can maximise opportunities to speed up reforms towards a safe and sustainable low-carbon and resource-efficient economy, and the Environment Council's possible role in the new Strategy.

Climate change

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on follow-up to the December 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen. The Commission proposed a strategy to reinvigorate global action last week (see IP/10/255). The draft Council conclusions set out the EU's views on the outcomes of Copenhagen and on the next steps to be taken towards achieving the EU's objective of a legally binding global climate agreement for the post-2012 period which, the Council highlights, is becoming more urgent. The steps outlined concern both the UN negotiations which will restart next month and the implementation of the Copenhagen Accord. Among other things, the draft conclusions stress the need urgently to mobilise the 'fast-start' funding pledged under the Accord to help developing countries strengthen their capacities to address climate change. They also underline the EU's willingness to present a preliminary state of play report regarding its fast-starting financing pledge of 2.4 billion per year at the UN negotiations in May-June. The draft conclusions are relatively short and seek to avoid repeating agreed language on issues already addressed in the comprehensive conclusions adopted by the October 2009 Environment Council.

Ministers are also expected to discuss climate change strategy over lunch. After lunch Mexican Environment Minister Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada will address the Council and there will be an exchange of views concerning the UN climate change conference that Mexico will host in Cancún at the end of this year.

CO2 from light commercial vehicles

The Council will hold a policy debate on the Commission's proposed Regulation to limit CO2 emissions from new light-duty commercial vehicles (vans) (see IP/09/1605). The Commission proposes that average emissions from new vans should be reduced to 175 g CO2/km, to be phased in between 2014 and 2016. It also proposes a long-term target for 2020 of 135 g/km, subject to confirmation of its feasibility in 2013. Together with the limits on CO2 emissions from new cars adopted last year, the vans proposal is an important contribution to the goal of 'decarbonising' the transport sector, which is one of the key initiatives in the Commission's Europe 2020 strategy. The Council debate will centre on two questions raised by the Spanish presidency: the ambition level of the 2020 target, and the adequacy of the flexibilities and of the non-compliance penalties proposed by the Commission. The discussion should help to clarify the positions of the Member States and provide constructive suggestions on the way forward. The European Parliament is due to complete its first reading of the proposal in September.

Any other business

Any other business points include a presentation by the Commission of a Report on the links between existing and upcoming legislation on ship dismantling in the Hong Kong Convention, the Basel Convention and the EU Regulation on shipments of waste; information from the Presidency about a Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean; and information from the Presidency about the outcome of three recent conferences held in Spain (on Biodiversity Post-2010 hosted in Madrid on 26-27 January 2010, on Water Scarcity and Drought also held in Madrid in February, and on biowaste recycling in Europe held in Barcelona). The Commission will also provide information about a review of the Mercury strategy.

A press conference is foreseen at 13:00.

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