Environment Council to ratify Kyoto Protocol

On Monday 4 March, the EU Environment Ministers will meet to decide on the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and to discuss EU’s sustainable strategies and environmental liability.

The ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is the only issue on
which a political agreement is expected during this Council. At the
last Council meeting in December 2001, a unanimous agreement was
reached on a decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol by the March
2002 Council. However, two issues must be resolved before a final
agreement can be concluded:

  • The legal base must be clarified. Some Member States have
    raised the issue of using Article 175(1), but a majority seems to
    prefer 175(2). The Commission also claims that 175(2) would be the
    legally correct article to use. The main difference between the two
    is that 175(2) requires unanimity.
  • The “Danish problem” must be solved. It was unanimously decided
    not to renegotiate the burden sharing agreement of June 1998.
    However, Denmark has a special problem with the base year 1990 for
    emission reductions. That year was atypical for Denmark, since it
    exported an unusually large amount of hydro-electricity and
    produced little coal-fired electricity, and hence had very low
    levels of CO2 emissions. A change of the base year is not allowed
    under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, so the Council
    must find some other way to accommodate Denmark’s problem.

Other important issues to be debated during the
Council meeting are:

  • The report on the internal sustainable development strategy is
    not taking sufficient account of the environmental dimension and
    the Council will urge the Commission to ensure that future reports
    put more emphasis on the environment.
  • For the external dimension of sustainable development, which
    will form the EU’s position for the Johannesburg summit, Member
    States should for example be encouraged to reach the official
    development aid target of 0,7% of GDP and to form viable
    partnerships with civil society;
  • The proposed directive for environmental liability will be the
    subject of a public debate during the Council. The Presidency has
    posed questions regarding the scope of the directive, mandatory
    insurances and the access to justice;
  • There will be a report on the state of play on the directive on
    emission trading;
  • Progress reports on Seveso II, packaging waste and the
    bio-safety protocol will be given.


UNICE, the European employers' federation, wants
to see considerable changes in the directive on environmental
liability. It claims that the proposed directive would expose
companies to unlimited liability claims and that sufficient
cost-benefit analyses have not been undertaken to justify the

European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has issued a
position paper outlining its main concerns for the issues that will
be debated by the Council:

  • The environmental part of the internal sustainable development
    strategy must get a higher political profile. To ensure that
    progress can be measured, sustainability indicators should be
  • The external sustainable development strategy does not include
    measurable targets and it has a too narrow focus.
  • The Council should demand a complete revision of the packaging
    waste directive and not accept the Commission's minimalist
  • The scope of the directive on environmental liability should be
    extended, the proposed exemptions abolished, and mandatory
    financial security measures should be introduced.


The ratification by the EU of the Kyoto Protocol has been a
hot topic for the past 12 months (see linksdossier on
). Another important issue, which
was decided in Gothenburg in 2001, is the EU's sustainability
strategy (see also EURACTIV
18 June
). It must be reviewed every year and
reported on to the spring EU summit. Both these issues will be
debated at the Environment Council meeting on 4 March.


The Barcelona summit on 15-16 March will discuss the
sustainable development strategies, both internal and external. The
debates on environmental liability and packaging waste will
continue in the first readings of the European Parliament (second
and third quarter of 2002).


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