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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

EU Commission: Improving air quality: EU acceptance of the Gothenburg Protocol amendment in sight

Improving air quality: EU acceptance of the Gothenburg Protocol amendment in sight

On 17 July, the Council adopted a decision[1] accepting on behalf of the European Union an amendment to the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to reduce emissions of air pollutants globally. The EU is now ready to formally accept the amendment

The amendment strengthens the provisions set out in the original text of the protocol and its annexes with the aim of enhancing in the long term the protection of human health and the environment from transboundary air pollution. 

"Each year, 700 thousand people die in Europe due to air pollution. It affects us all regardless of borders. With the revised Gothenburg Protocol, the emissions of air pollutants will decrease, improving the air we breathe every day. The EU is on track thanks to our new ambitious National Emission Ceilings directive. Today, I am delighted we are reconfirming our international commitments."

Siim Kiisler, Minister of the Environment of the Republic of Estonia

The amendment establishes more rigorous national emission reduction commitments for the four main air pollutants: sulphur (mainly sulphur dioxide), nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOC), other than methane and ammonia. These emission limits are set for each country per pollutant and apply from 2020 onwards. 

A fifth pollutant - fine particulate matter - is covered for the first time. The revised protocol introduces clear emission reduction commitments for it, too. 

The amendment takes a step forward by incorporating black carbon as a particulate matter component. These short-lived particles are major contributors to global warming due to their heat-trapping power, which is immense compared to that of carbon dioxide. 

In addition, the revised protocol updates the emission limit values (emission standards) for different air pollution sources: stationary (e.g. factories and processing plants) and mobile (e.g. vehicles, non-road mobile machines and agricultural and forestry tractors). New standards are introduced on the content of non-methane VOC's in products. 

The amendment also completes the reporting obligation of the parties regarding the emissions of air pollutants as well as the progress made in the fields of technology and research. 

EU emission reduction commitments and implementation 

Under the revised protocol, the EU is set to reduce its emissions for 2020 as follows: sulphur dioxide - 59%, nitrogen oxides - 42%, ammonia - 6%, volatile organic compounds - 28%, and fine particulate matter - 22%. 

Currently, the main instruments used by the EU to implement the Gothenburg Protocol are the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) and the Medium Combustion Plants directives

The revised NEC directive, adopted in 2016, has already been aligned with the amended protocol by integrating the new international rules into EU law and by matching the emission reduction commitments for each member state from 2020 to 2029

In the revised NEC directive, the EU established more ambitious reductions from 2030 onwards. The EU reduction targets are the following: sulphur dioxide - 79%, nitrogen oxides  - 63%, ammonia - 19%, volatile organic compounds - 40%, and fine particulate matter - 49%.  

Context and next steps at EU level 

The Commission presented a proposal for a Council decision to accept the amendment as part of the 'Clean Air Programme for Europe' on 20 December 2013. 

However, negotiations at EU level have been on hold since then in view of the revision of the NEC directive. Following the directive's adoption on 8 December 2016, the Council agreed on the decision on 25 April 2017 and the European Parliament gave its consent during its plenary on 5 July 2017. 

Today's decision enters into force immediately after its adoption. The EU now needs to officially deposit the instrument of acceptance of the amendment with the United Nations. Member states are also taking the necessary steps to obtain final approval from national parliaments to ratify it. 

The amendment will enter into force on the 90th day after its ratification by two thirds of the parties. 

Background - Gothenburg Protocol & LRTAP Convention 

The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) is the main international framework to tackle air pollution. 51 countries from the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region are parties to the convention, including all EU member states. 

Over the last 30 years, 8 protocols have broadened the scope of the convention to incorporate stricter emission rules for air pollutants, the eighth being the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol. The EU approved that protocol in June 2003.

In 2012, following lengthy negotiations initiated in 2007, an agreement to amend the Gothenburg Protocol was reached during the 30th session of the LRTAP Convention. With the exception of the revised annex I, which entered into force on 5 June 2013, all other amended provisions required prior acceptance from parties.


[1] Denmark voted against this Council decision. However, it will accept the protocol on behalf of the country to maintain the EU's overall air-quality objectives. See statement

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Protecting climate: EU gives green light to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

On 17 July, the Council adopted a decision to conclude, on behalf of the EU, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol that will ensure the protection of the climate from the powerful greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). With this decision, the EU is ready for formal ratification, and has signalled its continued determination to lead global efforts to tackle climate change.

The purpose of the Kigali Amendment, agreed on 15 October 2016,  is to achieve a global reduction in the consumption and production of HFCs. Although greenhouse gases do not damage the ozone layer, their release into the atmosphere contributes to climate change and they have a significant impact on global warming.

Taking swift action to cut HFC emissions is essential. The implementation of this Amendment is expected to prevent warming of up to 0.5° Celsius by the end of the century, thus making a positive contribution to reaching the targets of the Paris agreement.

"HFCs are thousands of times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide. I very much welcome today's decision to be among the first to ratify the Kigali amendment to cut these greenhouse gases and continue our unwavering commitment to tackling climate change. This is an issue where international cooperation is crucial. Taking the Montreal Protocol as a model, the EU is ready to make sure this amendment is also a success."

Siim Kiisler, Minister of the Environment of the Republic of Estonia

HFCs can be found in equipment and products used in our daily lives such as fridges, air conditioners, foams and aerosol sprays. They were introduced as an alternative to ozone depleting substances, mainly hydrochlorofluorocarbons. 

Implementation at EU level 

The Kigali Amendment sets out a number of steps to be taken by the parties to the Montreal Protocol, in accordance with their economic and social development, to gradually reduce the use of HFCs. The EU member states, like other developed countries, are required to start the first reductions in 2019.  

However, the EU has taken early action and is at the forefront of compliance. The regulation adopted in 2014 on fluorinated greenhouse gases enabled the EU to already begin phasing down HFCs in 2015. This regulation will have to be reviewed to comply with the Kigali Amendment beyond 2030. 

Until then, the current EU legislation can still apply. In fact, it not only fulfils the Montreal Protocol obligations, but also provides for a stricter phase-down schedule compared with the measures to be in place under the new amendment. 

Timeline & next steps

On 2 February 2017, the Commission submitted a proposal for a Council decision to authorise the conclusion of the Kigali Amendment. The Council agreed to conclude the Amendment and start the ratification process on 11 May 2017. Subsequently, the European Parliament gave its formal consent during its plenary on 5 July. 

Today's Council decision enters into force immediately after its adoption. The EU has now to formally deposit the declaration of competence together with the instrument of ratification of the Kigali amendment at the United Nations. 

Member states are currently following their respective ratification processes considering that they also need to obtain approval from their national parliaments. 

The Amendment will enter into force on 1 January 2019 upon ratification by at least 20 states or regional economic integration organisations that are parties to the Montreal Protocol. If this threshold is not reached by then, the Amendment will enter into force on the 90th day following the date on which this condition has been finally fulfilled. 

Background - Kigali Amendment & Montreal Protocol 

The EU and its member states are long-standing advocates of climate protection. They are parties to the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol to phase out the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances and they had approved its four previous amendments to include in its regulatory scope other non-ozone depleting chemicals which cause climate change.

All 197 parties, including the EU and its member states, have been remarkably committed to the implementation of the Montreal Protocol since its agreement in 1987 and as a result, the recovery of the ozone layer is underway and is forecast to have been completed by the middle of this century. 

In light of this success, the Protocol has been amended a fifth time to reduce HFCs. This Amendment was adopted at the 28th Meeting of the Parties from 10 to 15 October 2016 held in Kigali (Rwanda).

Under its provisions, developed countries will be the first to start the phase-down process in 2019. Measures are more flexible for others. For most developing countries, the first step to reduce the production and consumption of these greenhouse gases begins in 2029 while for the remaining developing parties the first step is only set for 2032.

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Presentation of letters of credentials to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk received the letters of credentials of the following Ambassadors:

H.E. Mr Abu Sufian Bin Haji Ali, Ambassador, Head of Mission of Brunei Darussalam to the European Union
H.E. Mr Manasvi Srisodapol, Ambassador, Head of Mission of the Kingdom of Thailand to the European Union
H.E. Mr Ata Oveznepesovich Serdarov, Ambassador, Head of Mission of Turkmenistan to the European Union
H.E. Mr Mohamed Issa Hamad Abushahab, Ambassador, Head of Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the European Union
H.E. Mr Richard Zacharie Akplogan, Ambassador, Head of Mission of the Republic of Benin to the European Union
H.E. Mr Sibusisiwe Mngomezulu, Ambassador, Head of Mission of  the Kingdom of Swaziland to the European Union
H.E. Ms Rhoda Jackson, Ambassador, Head of Mission of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to the European Union

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Aarhus Convention: Council adopts EU's position for the forthcoming meeting of the parties

On 17 July 2017, the Council adopted a decision on the position of the European Union at the 6th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention (MoP-6) regarding a case brought before the Convention's Compliance Committee against the EU. 

The Committee considers in this compliance case that the EU is in breach of the Convention's rules in not granting sufficient access to justice to environmental organisations and members of the public. The findings are outlined in a draft Aarhus decision, which will be submitted for consideration by the parties to the Convention at MoP-6. 

Specifically, the Committee finds that neither the EU regulation 1367/2006 nor the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union implements or complies with the obligations established under the Convention. 

In the Council decision, the EU - with all member states in unanimity - accepts the draft Aarhus decision, subject to some amendments in order to clarify inter alia that the Meeting of the Parties does not intend to require the EU to interfere with the independence of its judiciary. 

The EU and its member states reiterate their full commitment to the principles and objectives of the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, as well as their unwavering respect for its compliance mechanism. 

The Commission made a statement to the Council minutes. 

During the forthcoming MoP-6 to be held in Budva (Montenegro) on 11-15 September 2017, the EU will present its position as a conditional acceptance of the draft Aarhus decision and stands ready to work in a constructive and positive manner with the Convention's Compliance Committee and other parties at the meeting. In case of a vote, the EU will cast it for the 28 member states collectively on this matter. 

Next steps 

This Council decision enters into force immediately after its adoption and will be published in the EU Official Journal as soon as possible. 

The Council will now communicate this decision to the Aarhus Convention Secretariat in the context of the ongoing MoP-6 preparations. 

Background 

The Aarhus Convention is a multilateral agreement aiming to guarantee the public rights on access to information, access to public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. Together with the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, the Convention is one of the two legally binding international instruments that put into effect and implement principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. 

The Convention entered into force in 2001 and has 47 parties from Europe and Central Asia. These include the 28 EU member states and the EU, which approved it on 17 February 2005. At EU level, the Convention obligations are implemented through regulation 1367/2006, known as the Aarhus regulation. 

In 2008, the non-governmental organisation Client Earth brought a case to the Convention's Compliance Committee concerning insufficient compliance by the EU with its obligations under the Convention. After lengthy discussions, the Committee submitted its findings to the EU on 17 March 2017.

The Commission presented a proposal for this Council decision on 29 June 2017, proposing a negative vote on the endorsement of the findings in this compliance case. The Council has unanimously reached a decision to amend this proposal.

Council decision on EU's position at MoP-6
Commission statement

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Digital Single Market conference on the free movement of data

European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery] Tallinn, 17 July 2017 Closing speech by Vice-President Andrus Ansip in charge of the Digital Single Market   Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, We have heard a lot today about the importance of data and of getting it to flow without restraints.

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