European Union (EU) Ministers for the Environment met in Luxembourg on 26 October 2015 for a Council chaired by Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg's Minister for the Environment. They discussed the proposal to review the European Union Emissions Trading System (ETS), the environmental dimension of the European Semester process, and studied the implementation of Agenda 2030 for sustainable development adopted at the United Nations Summit in New York in September 2015. This point was the subject of a working lunch with Ministers in charge of Cooperation, in which the Luxembourg Minister responsible for this area, Romain Schneider, also participated. The Volkswagen Affair was also on the agenda.
Review of the EU's Greenhouse Gases Emissions Trading System
The Ministers held a first policy debate on the review of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), based on a document by the Luxembourg Presidency, at a time when the EU is supposed to comply with a restrictive objective which involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. The contributions made by the Ministers during the session will serve as policy guidelines in order to help the Council to progress on this issue, with the Commission having presented its draft directive in July 2015.
Several delegations highlighted the 'need for an ETS which achieves results and which is credible in terms of climate policies', indicated the Minister Carole Dieschbourg. Others expressed a desire to further the discussion after the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21), which will be held in December 2015, explained the Minister, who also underlined the need to have 'firm, effective and coherent policies in order to fulfil our goals'.
The Emissions Trading System was launched in 2005 and is the main tool of the EU's policy to fight climate change. It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions effectively and at a lower cost. It involves limiting global emissions in highly polluting industrial sectors by imposing an upper limit. Within this upper limit, which is lowered every year, companies are able to buy and sell emission quotas. Each quota entitles companies to produce one tonne of CO2– the main greenhouse gas – or an equivalent amount of another greenhouse gas.
In its proposal, the Commission has proposed, in particular,
- to lower the upper limit of global emissions authorised under the 2.2% per year system as of 2021 (currently 1.74% per year),
- to create a 'modernisation fund' which aims to support investment in modernising energy systems and improving energy efficiency in Member States with a GDP per inhabitant which is less than 60% of the EU average,
- to allow 57% of emission quotas to be auctioned and to provide 400 million quotas as of 2021 in order to support innovation in the field of low carbon emission technologies, CO2 capture and geological storage projects (CCS), as well as innovative technologies concerning renewable energies.
Greening of the European Semester
The Ministers exchanged views on the environmental dimension in the context of the European Semester process. They discussed the the phasing out of environmentally-harmful subsidies and the implementation of environmental policies and legislation.
'We need cooperation and coherence in this area', underlined Carole Dieschbourg, who hailed the fact that the EU's Ministers for Agriculture had discussed the contribution of agriculture to reducing climate change during their Council of 22 October 2015.
The Minister regrets that two-thirds of energy investments made worldwide are still devoted to fossil fuels and that 50% of agricultural subsidies paid out in OECD countries are harmful to the environment. 'The European budgetary policy should be a tool for counteracting this trend', she said.
The European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, believes that there is still a long way to go before subsidies which are harmful to the environment are eliminated. According to him, there is no sense in using public money in a way which goes against environmental policy objectives. Harmful subsidies would not only be bad for the environment, but also for public finances, since they undermine competitiveness and innovation and act as a brake on investment in alternative technologies. As an example, the Commissioner referred to the 'preferential treatment' given to fossil fuels which cost European contributors €25 billion a year.
To recall, during its October 2014 session, the Environment Council cited the gradual elimination of subsidies harmful to the environment as a tool that would facilitate the transition to an economy which is more sustainable, low-carbon and makes more efficient use of resources.
The Ministers also discussed the text of negotiations which was approved during the Climate Change Conference held in Bonn (Germany) from 19 to 23 October 2015, in preparation for the Paris Climate Change Conference. Carole Dieschbourg explained that the EU's demands had been integrated into the text as options and that most of the questions remained open. 'It is time for governments to demonstrate leadership and we must increase pressure on the EU with a view to obtaining an ambitious and credible result in Paris', she said, pointing out that the EU's key demands continued to be 'a long-term objective, greater transparency and responsibility, and review cycles'.
Sustainable Development Programme for 2030
The Council proceeded with an exchange of views about how to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Programme for 2030 entitled 'Transforming our World'. The Ministers debated the EU's main priorities for the programme's implementation from an environmental perspective, the role of policy coherence and the methods for effectively accounting for the measures taken and the progress made.
This debate followed an informal discussion devoted to the common challenges and integrated approaches concerning implementation, which took place over lunch with Ministers in charge of Development Cooperation.
The Ministers agreed that it was necessary to 'work together to eliminate silo policies and to be more coherent, more inclusive and not exclude anyone', declared Carole Dieschbourg. 'Linking the eradication of poverty with more sustainable forms of consumption and economy is crucial for the implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)', she stated.
For Commissioner Vella, it is essential to 'break silos in policies' at a European and national level. 'We need a more global and integrated approach in order to achieve the SDGs', he explained.
The Sustainable Development Programme for 2030 was adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held in New York from 25 to 27 September 2015. It comprises 17 SDGs, which replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In the context of the Volkswagen Affair, the Council was provided with information concerning vehicle emissions tests under real driving conditions (Real Driving Emission, or RDE) and the doctoring of emission control systems in cars, which constitutes a serious obstacle to the improvement of air quality in the EU.
Ministers highlighted the need for a more robust control system as well as rapid decisions about new testing standards, said Carole Dieschbourg, highlighting the importance of this aspect for the quality, health and development of our cities.
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, explained that a vote on the technical aspects of RDE testing will be held on 28 October 2015. According to her, the discussion is underway and a compromise should be reached 'very soon'. She hailed the support of the large majority of Environment Ministers, who have partial competence over the technical aspects of the implementation of RDE tests. The Commissioner also insisted on the need to change the reception system by car type and to 'know the facts'.