Protection of the environment and a gradual improvement of the state of the environment are key priorities of the European Union and its citizens. The EU has set itself the task of fostering the harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities, while taking into account the need to respect the environment. The EU is and intends to remain a world leader in activities connected with the protection of our planet’s climate. Climate change is one of the strategic priorities of the Trio Presidency (Spain, Belgium and Hungary).
The Environment Council brings Environment Ministers together around four times a year. They address a number of issues including the conservation, protection and improvement of the quality of the environment; the prudent and rational use of natural resources; the international promotion of measures to deal with regional or global environmental problems. The Environment Council acts by qualified majority in co-decision with the European Parliament.
Strict environmental guidelines
The policies and measures put forward by the Environment Council are based on strict environmental guidelines such as the precautionary principle or “the polluter should pay” principle. The former supposes that measures designed to protect the environment should always be taken even if there is no clear evidence of harmful effects, whereas the latter principle set forth that it is always the party responsible for the pollution who has to pay for the damages caused. In its deliberations, the Environment Council also has to take into account the vast differences between the various regions of the European Union. Environmental problems like water and air pollution do not respect national borders, thus Member States need to find solutions together to such problems. A common European approach also ensures that a harmony is struck between the environment protection regulations of Member States.
European environment policy has seen important changes, in the last fifteen years in particular. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, promoting sustainable development became a declared aim of the EU. The European Council approved the renewed European Sustainable Development Strategy based on the Gothenburg Strategy of 2001, which aimed to provide a tangible framework for the ecological, economic and social development of the Union. The most recent review of the Strategy was conducted in 2009. The Sixth Action Programme for the Environment was adopted in 2002 with the aim of improving the efficiency of Community action. This set out the EU's priorities in this field for the period until 2012 and highlighted four areas where urgent action is needed: climate change, nature and biodiversity, environment and health and the management of natural resources and waste. A transition to an eco-efficient European economy is essential not only to the environment, but also to the security of supply and European competitiveness. The European Commission is already working on preparing the strategy for the period after 2012.
Tackling climate change
The EU has in recent years clearly taken up the challenge of tackling climate change. Following the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol adopted at the Kyoto UN Climate Summit, the European Climate and Energy package, as approved in 2009, is the world’s most comprehensive and ambitious set of legislations designed to address climate change. The new European legislation sets concrete objectives: an improvement in energy efficiency of 20% by 2020, an enhancement of the share of renewable energy sources to 20 % of our energy final consumption, and a unconditional reduction of greenhouse gases by 20 % by 2020 compared to 1990 (20-20-20 integrated energy and climate strategy). At the same time, one has to take into account that climate change is a global challenge in need of global responses. Greenhouse gases affect the climate regardless of where they are emitted.
The objective of the EU in the interest of restricting the effects of climate change to within limits, is to have a climate protection system in place after the commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 that ambitious, legally binding and internationally as widely supported as possible. In this respect the EU has stated that it is ready to increase from 20% to 30% its emission reduction targets, provided that all other major emitting countries – developed and developing alike – are ready to commit themselves to comparable objectives.
PRIORITIES OF THE HUNGARIAN PRESIDENCY
Tasks stemming from international climate policy talks and the internal legislative tasks related to the implementation of the EU climate and energy package fundamentally define the dynamics of the Hungarian Presidency period. The objective of the international talks is to prepare for the emission reduction regimes for the period after 2012 (the so-called post-Kyoto regime) on the basis of the UN Convention on Climate Change. As the country in office of the rotating presidency, it is going to be up to Hungary to help draft the EU’s common position and represent it internationally.
A new global climate protection framework
Following the December conference in Cancun of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and to the Kyoto Protocol (COP16/CMP6) the Presidency will pay special attention to move forward the implementation of the Cancun decisions within the EU and to coordinate within the EU the required further steps. The Hungarian Presidency will start preparations for the meeting of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and to the Kyoto Protocol (COP17/CMP7) to be organized in 2011 in South-Africa. Hungary would like if it would be possible to establish a new global, comprehensive and legally binding climate protection framework that would come into effect after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
The Hungarian Presidency will pay special attention to the implementation of the EU climate and energy package, including talks on emission reduction objectives exceeding 20%. Depending on the recommendation of the European Commission, Hungary wishes to begin the debate on a roadmap for a transition to a low carbon-intensity economy by 2050, which at the same time would also contribute to “flagship initiatives” aimed at resource-efficiency.
Extreme hydrological events
In the recent years we have witnessed extreme hydrological events around Europe (storms, sudden localized floods, internal waters and droughts), which many countries are not prepared to handle. As a result of climate change it can be expected that he adverse effects of drought and sudden increases in precipitation may even appear one after the other. Therefore in respect of climate change the Hungarian Presidency has decided to place in the focus of its water management policy the integrated and sustainable management of extreme hydrological phenomena. The objective is to obtain the political approval of the Council for the Blueprint for Europe’s Water document that is to be adopted in 2012. Hungary wishes to include as a new element the integrated approach to the management of extreme weather and hydrological phenomena, the role of so-called ecological services provided by water, including their economic and international dimensions and the importance of international cooperation.
Preserving biological diversity
It is of outstanding importance that we preserve biological diversity and the ecosystem-services of living organisms and to use them in a sustainable way, not only for ethical reasons but also in order to preserve social and economic stability, to alleviate the effects of climate change and to adapt to it. EU efforts aimed at stopping the decline of natural areas and species richness have had restricted success so far. The man-made degradation of biological diversity has reached unprecedented proportions.
Following the 10th Nagoya conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on the Protection of Biological Diversity, the task of the Hungarian Presidency is to move forward the implementation within the EU of the Protocol approved at the conference on Regulation of Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from genetic resources as well as the implementation of the Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damages within the Union. Beyond this, the Hungarian Presidency will work to ensure that the Council at its meeting in June 2011 approves the post-2010 EU strategy for the protection of biodiversity. Hungary will try to place in a wider context and study issues related to the protection of biological diversity in conjunction with comprehensive reforms related to individual policies.
Genetically modified organisms
Member States are intensively dealing with issues related to the production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) at the central, regional or local levels, because the question is closely linked to the use of land and the character of local agriculture, as well as the sensitivity of the population to the issue. Therefore the European Commission issued a new proposal with respect to genetically modified organisms in July 2010, the purpose of which was to provide larger room for the Member States in restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of GMO crops in parts or the whole of the country. The Hungarian Presidency is committed to making the discussion for the draft regulation on the public cultivation of GMOs a success. Hungary will work to ensure that the Council can close the debate after the first reading at its meeting in June 2011.
Efficient use of resources
A European Commission proposal is expected during the Hungarian Presidency on a Roadmap for the Efficient Use of Resources, which would include material use, sustainable production and consumption and also waste management. This so-called “flagship initiative” of the Europe 2020 strategy has wide-spread environment protection and competitiveness impacts and is closely related to the new European industrial policy initiative. Hungary will carry on started by the Belgian Presidency and depending on the proposal of the European Commission wishes to achieve progress in the field of resource efficiency.
The Hungarian Presidency will carry forward the negotiations aimed at reworking the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and will strive for an agreement with the European Parliament. It will also continue the review of the Biocide Product Directive and the negotiations on an amendment of the directive in the form of a regulation. Depending on the proposal of the European Commission the Hungarian Presidency will commence negotiations aimed at the review of the SEVESO II Directive on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances.
Péter Györkös is Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the European Union. Diplomats carry their duties wherever they are ordered by his superior officers, but Péter Györkös has a “personal attachment” to his present assignment: for more than twenty years, he has been monitoring closely the process of European unification and has actively worked for it in his successive positions.