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Revision of the EU emission trading system and chemicals in the environment dominate the agenda of the last Environment Council


20 Dec 2016


Climate & Environment

Brussels (19 December 2016) – Slovak Minister for Environment László Sólymos chaired the last Environment Council under the stewardship of Slovak Presidency. The key items on the agenda included a revision of the EU emission trading system, the influence of chemicals on health and the environment and, more broadly, discussions on Sustainable Development Goals.

'We've been preparing for this Council for a long time and we've had high ambitions. We sought to reach a general approach for the EU emission trading system. This market instrument is essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the industry. Emissions may only be reduced provided there is an adequate price signal to attract investment in cleaner technologies. This signal is lacking for now,' said Mr Sólymos considering it as the 'Achilles' heel' of the current system.

He noted, however, that there was a lack of political will to adopt a common position of the Council and that the Presidency preferred not to go ahead with a fragile compromise.

The need for a swift response has become apparent especially after the Paris Agreement came into effect. 'All eyes are on us, on our ability to turn our words into real action, and on what the new legislation to meet our objectives will be like. Many say that we’re able to unite on goals, but we cannot unite on concrete measures,' said the minister.

In challenging talks over the past few weeks, the Presidency has managed to clear up a wide range of technical issues, such as the setting of benchmark updates, criteria for sectors at risk of carbon leakage, dynamic allocation, the innovation fund, compensation for indirect costs and the administrative simplification of the system as a whole.

The main political issues for further work remain:

  • measures to strengthen the EU emission trading system, where the Slovak Presidency dealt with a number of possibilities allowing modification of the system of allowances via the market stability reserve;
  • financial mechanisms, particularly the modernisation fund, so that it can operate simply and transparently and help countries to fulfil their long-term commitments to reduce emissions;
  • competitiveness so that the most effective facilities are spared of unwanted consequences and there is an adequate number of allowances on the market for free allocation. 

'I firmly believe that the Maltese Presidency will be able to build on the solid foundations of our Presidency. The Parliament is ready to act and the Council will face gradually mounting pressure. We need to act,' Mr Sólymos said to conclude the discussion on the revision of the EU emission trading system.

The Council also adopted conclusions on chemicals and their influence on health and the environment. This is perfectly timed, marking the tenth anniversary since the landmark legislation on chemicals known as REACH was adopted. The ministers paid due attention to the evaluation of the legislation to date and the adaptation of the legislation other than REACH. 'We agreed on guidance the Commission should stick to in its evaluation,' Mr Sólymos said regarding the Presidency's plans. 'This includes sufficient information on the registration of chemicals, the effectiveness of procedures in risk management and the stability of funding for the European Chemicals Agency based in Helsinki after 2018.'

The Slovak Presidency also raised the progress made in negotiations on large proposals to reduce emissions for areas other than industry, notably transportation and agriculture. As regards the circular economy, the Slovak Presidency informed delegates about headway made in talks on waste legislation at the Council level. 

Finally, Mr Sólymos paid tribute to his partners from fellow Member States and to Commissioners Miguel Arias Cañete and Karmenu Vella and their teams for their cooperation during the Slovak Presidency and highlighted a number of collective achievements, including the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the adoption of an important Protocol to the Montreal Protocol, an agreement struck with the European Parliament concerning mercury enabling the EU to ratify the Minamata Convention, and the first ever Eastern Partnership meeting dedicated to the environment.




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