Documents considered by the Committee on 18 March 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents

11 National Emissions Ceilings

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny, but scrutiny waiver granted
Document detailsDraft Directive on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants
Legal baseArticl192(1) TFEU; co-decision; QMV
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Document numbers(35693), 18167/13 + ADDs 1-7, COM(13) 920

Summary and Committee's conclusions

11.1 Although the National Emissions Ceiling Directive (2001/81/EEC) had led to reductions in emissions of the main atmospheric pollutants, significant adverse health and environmental impacts still remained, and the Commission put forward this proposal in December 2013 in order to address those impacts, and to align EU law with new international commitments. However, as the Commission had not provided an assessment of the impact of the new measures, and the Government had said it would be undertaking its own analysis, we decided on 29 January 2014 to retain the document under scrutiny, pending further information.

11.2 During the course of 2014, we received from the Government information on the estimates which the Commission had subsequently provided on the cost and benefits, and on the UK's own estimates (which put the benefits at broadly the same level as the Commission, but believed that the cost could be considerably higher). The Government then wrote on 14 January 2015 to say that the proposal would be modified as part of the legislative follow-up to the 2030 Climate and Energy Agreement, and this was followed by another letter on 25 February, which said that Commission had suggested some changes to the ceilings previously proposed for 2030, and had also given an updated impact analysisfor both the EU as a whole and for the UK (although, in the latter case, UK officials were continuing their own analysis). The Government also said that the European Parliament was progressing its consideration, and that its lead committee was expected to vote on a draft report before the summer. In view of this, it concluded by asking whether, given the limited time before the dissolution of Parliament, we would be prepared to release the document from scrutiny.

11.3 Whilst we are grateful to the Minister for this update, we would have found it helpful to have been given more detailed information about the ceilings now proposed for 2030, and in particular to know whether these reflect the changes referred to in the Commission's 2015 Work Programme, or whether further changes can be expected. Also, the Government does not say whether it agrees with the Commission's latest cost and benefit figures, but we note that it is in any case carrying out its own analysis of the proposal, based on UK evidence, and we need to see the results of that before we can sensibly take a view.

11.4 Given also the general importance of the proposal, we do not think it would be right to release the document from scrutiny before these uncertainties have been resolved, but nor would we wish to unduly fetter the Government's negotiating freedom in the period before our successor Committee is appointed. We are therefore willing to grant a waiver, to enable the Government to support a General Approach in the Council, but we would expect the Government to provide further updates as the negotiations progress.

Full details of the document: Draft Directive on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants and amending Directive 2003/35/EC: (35693), 18167/13 + ADDs 1-7, COM(13) 920.

11.5 In its Communication[22] setting out a Clean Air Programme for Europe, the Commission noted that, in order to reduce air pollution and comply with the provisions of the Gothenburg Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EEC) had required Member States to establish national programmes and emissions inventories to limit their emissions of the main pollutants from 2010 onwards. However, although these had given rise to a range of reductions, significant adverse health and environmental impacts remained.

11.6 The Commission accordingly put forward in December 2013 this draft Directive, which seeks to address these impacts, and to align EU law with new international commitments arising from an amendment to the Gothenburg Protocol adopted in 2012. As we noted in our Report of 29 January 2014, the proposal laid down more detailed conditions for national plans and inventories, and set out new national emission reduction commitments, to be met by 2020 and beyond. Thus, new ceilings would apply from 2020 and 2030 for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia and fine particulate matter (P2.5), as well as a new ceiling for methane for 2030, and Member States would be required to limit their annual emissions of these pollutants in 2025 to levels consistent with a linear trajectory between 2020 and 2030, unless this would entail disproportionate costs.

11.7 In addition, the proposal stipulated the measures to be taken to control emissions of ammonia from agriculture and black carbon (a component of particulate matter, which is a short lived climate pollutant). It also seeks to address some of the perceived shortcomings in the implementation of the current Directive by providing for Member States to adopt national air pollution control programmes describing how their ceilings will be met, and for enhanced co-ordination between emission reductions and air quality as well as climate change and biodiversity protection. However, as the impact assessment published by the Commission had related to the over-arching Clean Air Programme, and not to individual measures within the package, or their impact on the UK, we noted that the Government would be undertaking its own analysis of the impacts, the expectation being that it would provide the first such analysis by Easter 2014. We therefore decided to retain the document under scrutiny, pending further information.

Subsequent developments

11.8 We next received a letter of 10 April 2014 from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice), which said that the Commission had now provided estimates of the costs and benefits of the new limits for each Member State, and had suggested that in 2030 annual costs in the UK would be €0.3 billion and the health benefits some €3.8 billion, with benefits to crops and materials also estimated at almost €45 million a year. However, he added that it was important to analyse this in further detail, and in particular to understand the Commission's assumptions, how the impacts would be distributed between sectors and businesses, and possible non-quantified costs and benefits, such as reduced damage to ecosystems. The Minister added that UK officials would be meeting the Commission to discuss the underlying assumptions in detail, in order to progress their own analysis, and so develop the UK's negotiating position.

11.9 This was followed by a further letter on 9 July 2014, which said that subsequent bilateral meetings between the Commission and Member States had led to a better understanding, and that the Commission had undertaken to update its analysis and to produce a report by 15 September 2014 (which the Minister expected to reduce some of the discrepancies between UK and Commission data), and to consider the impact of changes in the proposed emission limits for 2030. The Minister added that, in parallel, the UK had been continuing its own analysis of the costs and benefits of the proposal, its initial results suggesting that annualised health benefits would be in the region of €3.7-5.0 billion (with around half of this being attributable to emission reductions in other Member States). There would also be environmental benefits in terms of reduced eutrophication and acidification, though these needed further refinement. He also noted that, whilst the UK's estimate of the benefits was broadly in line with that of the Commission, it believed that the cost could be considerably higher.

Minister's letters of 15 January 2015 and 25 February 2015

11.10 Further updates from the Government reported that there had been little progress in negotiations in Brussels, but the Minister then wrote to us on 15 January 2015, noting that the Commission Work Programme for 2015 had said that the proposal would be modified as part of the legislative follow up to the 2030 Climate and Energy Agreement, and that the Government would be seeking further clarification about the implications of this.

11.11 He has now sent us a letter of 25 February, saying that, following bilateral meetings with Member States, the Commission has recently published a report updating its impact analysis on the proposal, and suggesting some changes to the ceilings proposed for 2030, which he says would resolve UK concerns regarding non-methane volatile organic compounds, but make the ceilings for nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and ammonia more stringent. He adds that, as a result, the Commission has calculated that the annual cost for the EU-28 would fall from €3.3 billion to €2.2 billion, and that its analysis shows the corresponding costs for the UK falling from €303 million to €173 million. However, in parallel with assessing the Commission's analysis, his officials are continuing their own analysis of the proposal, based on UK evidence.

11.12 The Minister adds that the European Parliament is progressing its consideration of the proposal, with the lead committee (ENVI) expected to publish a draft report in mid-March, and to vote on it before the summer. In the meantime, his officials are engaging with the rapporteur and other key MEPs to make them aware of UK concerns, but, in view of the limited time before the dissolution of Parliament and General Election, he is keen for this matter to clear Parliamentary scrutiny at the earliest opportunity. He therefore expresses the hope that his letter provides sufficient information to enable us to do that and to support the negotiating position he has outlined.

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-third Report HC 83-xxx (2013-14), chapter 4 (29 January 2014).

22   (35690), 18155/13: see Thirty-third Report HC 83-xxx (2013-14), chapter 13 (29 January 2014). Back

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