The informal meeting of environment ministers was held in Helsinki from 11th to 12th of July. Finland has as the President of the Council of the EU an important task of leading the discussion and trying to achieve a consensus among the member states’ ministers. This article will consider whether the ministers managed to give new input for the Union’s environmental policy on biodiversity, climate change and circular economy.
The main environmental objectives of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU include the aim to make the EU as the global leader in climate action, to do ambitious work to halt biodiversity loss post-2020 and to advance circular economy. As regards circular economy, Finland’s objective is to encourage during its Presidency the new Commission to continue with circular economy also in the future and to reach a common understanding within the EU member states on the long-term climate strategy. In regard to this, the Presidency works on preparing the EU’s positions for the 2020 UN climate conference, which is due to set new targets for halting biodiversity loss. Finland aims at moving the strategy process forward so that the European Council could reach a common understanding on an emissions reduction strategy at the end of this year, before the UN Climate Change conference in Chile in December.
The informal meeting of environment ministers was held in Helsinki from 11th to 12th of July. The Council conclusions to be adopted by the EU environment ministers will form the EU’s negotiating mandate for UN climate conferences. This article will explore whether Finland succeeded to achieve a consensus among the member states’ ministers in Helsinki.
Background of the meeting: the alarming state of the environment
Already the last summer showed the alarming state of the environment when the temperatures arose extremely high all over the Europe and the globe. As an example one could mention biodiversity which is declining at a very high speed: according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), freshwater alone has depleated by more than 80 per cent in the last 50 years. What comes to climate change, we could pass 1.5 celcius temperature rise in ten to twelve years. This is the level of temperature that the scientists say would avoid catastrophic climate change. This is also what the countries have committed to under the Paris Agreement. For the EU this means that it would need to reduce its net emissions to zero by 2040.
Despite the statistics, achieving a consensus among the different member states is not an easy task to complete: it requires compromises. Some member states are ready for a more ambitious environmental policy while others underline the importance of competitiveness. Next, the informal meeting of environment ministers will be explored in more detail.
The achievements of the informal meeting of environment ministers
The European Council invited in its conclusions the Council together with the Commission to ”advance work on the conditions, the incentives and the enabling framework to be put in place” so that to ensure the transition to a climate-neutral EU in line with the Paris Agreement. The environment and climate ministers had a possibility to show in their informal meeting whether they are truly willing to enhance the Union policy so as to ensure the environmental challenges relating to biodiversity loss and climate change.
The informal meeting started on Thursday 11th of July 2019. The first working session of the ministers was dedicated to the discussion on the EU’s climate ambition while the second working session focused on the increasing global ambition in climate change. The ministers also examined views on international objectives to halt the loss of biodiversity after 2020.
During their meeting, the environment ministers noted that being part of the same sustainability crisis, climate change and the loss of biodiversity call for coherent solutions. It seems that also some of the major obstacles for reaching an agreement among the EU member states were identified and discussed: – For EU climate policy to be in line with the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, our aim should be net zero emissions, in other words a balance between carbon emissions and sinks by 2050 at the very latest. We had a very open discussion today that will help identify the key obstacles to be cleared to reach agreement by the end of the year. Many countries already support this objective, but a few details still need to be finalised. The transition to a zero-emissions society must be fair, and we must address citizens’ concerns, underlined Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen after the meeting, who chaired the two-day informal meeting in Helsinki.
On Friday 12th of July, the ministers discussed the circular economy. During the first working session of the day the ministers explored the potential of circular economy solutions to fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. The meeting ended with a discussion on the next steps for a possible EU circular economy 2.0. The ministers, in particular, underlined the need to speed up work to stop the loss of biodiversity.
The two-day-long informal meeting of the environment ministers showed that there is willingness at the ministerial level to tackle the environmental problems of biodiversity loss and climate change. The ministers already discussed about the obstacles for reaching an agreement, which is the key to finding solutions. However, in order for the EU to be the leader in promoting the biodiversity, concrete actions and a clear vision are called for. Also, it is necessary that it is nationally ensured that the EU legislation is completely implemented. Only practical changes in action will enhance the status of our environment.
Finland has already showed ambition during its Presidency of the Council of the EU as regards the environmental problems of biodiversity loss and climate change. During their informal meeting in Helsinki the environment ministers managed to put on the table important questions as regards the Union’s environmental policy. Even though it is too early to make final conclusions on the achievements of Finland’s Presidency, the beginning seems promising. The ministers will resume their discussion on the EU’s efforts to halt biodiversity loss at next autumn’s Environment Council. It is hoped that the ministers will be able to give a clear input for the Union’s environmental policy.
While waiting for the Council conclusions, a lot will happen. Next, Finland will start to work for a position for the EU for the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Conference of Parties (COP15). Also, Finland will arrange European days for sustainable circular economy on 30th of September, 2019. During the event, the transition towards a sustainable circular economy-based society and industry will discussed on the basis of the lates scientific findings and practical knowledge.
TEKSTI Heidi Kaarto
The author has a LLM degree in European Law from Leiden University and is specialised in the internal market of the EU. During her free time, she participates as a researcher in the Leiden Advocacy Project on Plastics.