Select Committee on European Scrutiny Eighteenth Report




COM(01) 772

Commission Communication: EU-Russia Environmental Cooperation.

Legal base:
Document originated:17 December 2001
Forwarded to the Council:18 December 2001
Deposited in Parliament:23 January 2002
Department:Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration:EM of 1 February 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
To be discussed in Council:No date set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


  13.1  The Community's strategy for sustainable development, endorsed by the Gothenburg European Council in June 2001, recognises that economic growth must respect the environment, and identifies a number of key threats, such as global warming, public health risks, and loss of biodiversity. It underlines the Community's key role in bringing about sustainable development both within Europe and more widely, and it calls upon developed countries to join the Community in meeting these challenges. According to the Commission, the Community's partnership with Russia — including the environmental co-operation undertaken as a priority item within the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) — is of growing importance in this respect, and it believes that the time is ripe to develop a closer and more co-ordinated bilateral dialogue on environmental issues through the PCA. This Communication sets out proposals for achieving that objective.

The current document

  13.2  The Commission notes that the Community and Russia face a range of common global, regional and trans-boundary concerns, such as wasteful energy use and climate change, risks to human health, depletion of natural resources and loss of natural systems and biodiversity. It points out that, although 65% of Russian territory has not been affected by economic activity, the country contains 20% of global water resources and 22% of the world's forests, whose conservation is a key concern. At the same time, the Communication also draws attention to the "immense" environmental problems in Russia's densely populated urban and industrial areas, which it describes as "alarming", with unreliable municipal water supplies, inadequate systems for handling industrial and domestic waste, and severe air pollution caused by industrial and vehicle emissions, undermining health and reducing life expectancy. It therefore concludes that effective environmental policies would produce significant economic and social benefits, particularly in the light of the recent improvement in Russia's economic performance, and says that many of the problems, such as those arising in the energy sector, have a trans-boundary dimension.

  13.3  Against this background, the Commission suggests that there is considerable scope to improve the environmental dialogue with Russia, using existing structures and applying political commitment to a common agenda covering:

  • Efficient use of energy and combatting climate change

The Communication identifies more efficient generation, distribution and use of energy resources as the key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and bringing economic benefits. It suggests that enhanced dialogue should serve the common interest of the Community and Russia in implementing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and bringing into effect the Kyoto Protocol.

  • Improving public health

The Commission says that much can be done through environmental action to reduce health risks which particularly affect vulnerable groups, and the critical condition of the water supplies in many parts of Russia makes this a pressing priority.

  • Improving resource efficiency

The Commission considers that this is another area where economic and environmental interests coincide, and that cooperation should focus on promoting the internalisation of environmental costs through the reduction of subsidies, improving cost recovery, increasing the use of economic instruments, and promoting the application of the "polluter pays" principle. It suggests that this will create more favourable conditions for trade and foreign investment, and yield benefits through more efficient use of infrastructure, energy and raw materials, replacement of obsolete technologies, and improved environmental management. It also identifies the management of radioactive waste, and of spent fuel from nuclear power stations and nuclear-powered submarines, as a very important issue in this context.

  13.4  Other items highlighted in the Communication include environmental monitoring; public awareness and environmental information; international cooperation, including the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements; cooperation in Northern Europe, the Danube/Black Sea regions and the Caspian Sea; and the sustainable use of natural resources of common interest.

The Government's view

  13.5  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 1 February 2002, the Minister of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Michael Meacher) says that the Communication is at this stage aimed at enhancing dialogue, and that there are no direct policy implications for the UK. However, he also points out that the UK and other countries would benefit from increased importance being attached to environmental issues in Russia, particularly those with trans-boundary impacts. He also stresses that Russian ratification is essential if the Kyoto Protocol is to enter into force, and that the UK believes that this would be in Russia's own interest. It will therefore continue to work with the Community to encourage Russia to make this commitment.


  13.6  Although this Communication contains no legislative proposals, and has no direct policy implications for the UK, it is nevertheless an important document, given the wider impact which environmental developments in a country the size of Russia can have, particularly in some areas, such as energy. Consequently, although we see no reason to withhold clearance of this document, we think it right to draw it to the attention of the House.

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