Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report


EMISSION CEILINGS FOR CERTAIN ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTANTS


(20359)
10232/99
COM(99) 125

Draft Council Directive on national emission ceilings for atmospheric pollutants; and

Draft Council Directive relating to ozone in ambient air.


Legal base: Article 175(1) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Environment, Transport and the Regions
Basis of consideration: SEM of 25 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 23-viii (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (9 February 2000) and HC 23-xiv (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (12 April 2000)
To be discussed in Council: After the European Parliament's second reading in March 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared (decision reported on 12 April 2000)

Background

  10.1  In recent years, the Community has taken a number of measures to combat the adverse environmental and health effects of acidification, eutrophication[24] and increases in ground level (tropospheric) ozone caused by emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and ammonia (NH3). However, the Commission has said that, despite these steps, the Community will not achieve the goals in its Fifth Environmental Action Programme (to avoid exceeding critical loads and levels), and it accordingly put forward in June 1999 two further measures. These are described at some length in our Report of 9 February 2000. One would seek, by means of an integrated strategy, to set national emission ceilings for these various pollutants, aimed at further reducing by 2010 the environmental problems mentioned above (as compared with 1990), whilst the other would involve setting air quality targets for ozone of the kind provided for in the framework Directive 96/62/EC.

  10.2  In our Report, we noted that the two measures clearly constituted a substantial proposal, which we said we would wish to consider further when we had received the Regulatory Impact Assessments promised by the Minister. In the meantime, we asked the Government two questions. The first was whether the costs of the proposal outweighed the expected benefits, and whether the 18% share which the UK would be required to bear of the overall Community cost could be regarded as reasonable. Secondly, we noted that the national emission ceilings in the proposal appeared to be substantially lower than those envisaged under the relevant United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Protocol, which had been based on the same mathematical model. We therefore sought more information on the reasons for these differences, whether they are significant in environmental and cost terms, and, if so, which of the two approaches is to be preferred.

  10.3  A Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 6 April 2000 from the Minister for the Environment (the Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher) provided the promised Regulatory Impact Assessments, and sought to answer the questions we had posed. As regards the proposed national emission ceilings, the Assessment pointed to the damaging impact of acidification, eutrophication and tropospheric ozone, and in particular to the adverse effects which ozone has on human health. It then contrasted the various UK emission ceilings in 1990, and under current and agreed measures, with those in the Commission proposal and under the UNECE Protocol, as follows (in kilotonnes per year):

Pollutant:
1990
Ceilings for 2010
  
  
Currently
UNECE
Directive
SO2
3731
980
625
497
VOC
2555
1351
1200
964
NOx
2673
1186
1181
1181
NH3
333
297
297
264


  10.4  The Assessment stated that the UK considered that the ceilings proposed under the Directive were not as cost-effective as those under the UNECE Protocol, and that, whilst in the former case marginal benefits exceeded marginal costs, this was unlikely to be so as regards the proposed Directive. The Assessment also pointed out that the proposed ceilings for NOx were similar to those currently envisaged, and were thus unlikely to require any additional measures, but that the same was not true of the other ceilings. Those for SO2 had important implications for the diversity of UK energy supplies, and the commitment under the UNECE Protocol was consistent with the Government's aim of securing adequate diversity without excessive cost. In the case of VOCs, all the major sources (such as industrial solvents) had been, or will be, addressed through existing legislation, and the Government considered that the cost of achieving the ceiling proposed by the Commission would be high as compared with the UNECE Protocol. In the case of ammonia, the Government said that techniques based on the management of animal wastes had not yet been shown to be effective, and that, given the considerable doubts over past and projected emission levels, it had decided not to agree to any reductions beyond those expected due to projected falls in animal numbers and fertiliser use.

  10.5  The Assessment summarised the potential compliance costs as follows (£million per year):

  
Directive
(Commission est.)
Directive
(DETR est.)
UNECE
(DETR est.)
SO2
200
Up to 61
Up to 34
VOC
684
9
9
NOx
  
435
18
NH3
15
11-24
0
Total
899
Up to 516-529
Up to 61


  10.6  As to whether the UK's share of the overall Community cost was reasonable, the Minister said that the Government agreed with the approach in the Directive, which allowed the emission cuts to be differentiated by country according to their environmental impact and cost. However, he pointed out that the estimates provided by the Commission had been overtaken by the estimates carried out by his Department, but that, because of the lack of a comparable re-working covering other Member States, it was not possible at that stage to calculate what percentage of the overall cost would now be borne by the UK. As to any preference between the Commission and UNECE approaches, the Minister said that both were to be welcomed in as much as they were consistent with the "polluter pays" principle, but that the Government was "not persuaded" that the additional benefits under the Commission proposal were commensurate with the increased costs.

  10.7  In the conclusion to our Report of 12 April 2000, we noted that, even allowing for the fact that substantial revisions had been made to the cost implications, the costs of the proposed Directive would apparently outweigh the benefits so far as the UK was concerned, and that the Government clearly considered that the higher ceilings within the UNECE Protocol would represent a better balance between benefits and costs. However, in view of the Government's support for the approach underlying both the Protocol and the Commission's proposal, we decided to clear the document, subject to our being informed if any further refinement of the costs led to a different conclusion about the relative merits of the two measures, or suggested that the UK would be required to bear a share of the overall costs greater than 18%.

Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 25 January 2001  

  10.8  In his Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 25 January, the Minister says that, as a result of further discussions, the Council has now reached a Common Position. He points out that the main effect is to set less stringent emission ceilings for the four pollutants by 2010 than those in the original proposal, but that a majority of Member States, including the UK, were able to offer ceilings on one or more pollutants which go beyond their commitments under the UNECE Protocol. The following table shows the ceilings (in kilotonnes per year) which would apply in the UK under the various proposals:

UNECE
Directive
(as first proposed)
Directive
(Revised)
625
497
585
1200
964
1200
1181
1181
1167
297
264
297


  10.9  The Minister points out that measures already agreed[25] are expected to deliver a substantial part of the emission reductions required. However, he adds that the ceiling for SO2 continues to have potentially important implications for the diversity of UK energy supplies, since the main source is still coal burned in the electricity supply industry, and a separate proposal dealing with emissions from large combustion plants will now introduce more stringent controls on existing (as well as new) plant. He says that future emissions will depend largely on the amount of electricity produced by coal-fired power stations, the proportion of that produced in plant without flue gas desulphurisation, and the sulphur content of the coal used. In addition, future coal usage will be affected by coal and gas prices, levels of economic growth and the impact of policies to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. However, the Minister considers that, even assuming a scenario under which a relatively large amount of coal is burned, the UK ceiling of 585,000 tonnes in the Common Position is consistent with the Government's aims as set out in its 1999 White Paper on Fuels for Electricity Generation. By contrast, he does not consider that the ceilings set for VOCs and NOx will require any additional UK measures, but that such measures may be required in areas such as manure management in order to meet the target for NH3.

  10.10  As regards the potential costs involved, the Minister says that the most recent estimates put these at around £6 million a year for the UK for SO2, VOCs and NOx, as compared with the Government's original assessment of £61 million for complying with the UNECE Protocol. It has not, however, been possible to be precise about the costs arising for NH3, though the Government considers these may increase significantly as additional sources of ammonia are accounted for.

Conclusion

  10.11  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, which suggests that the cost of these proposals is now likely to be considerably less than previously thought. In view of the intrinsic importance of the proposals, we think it right to draw this development to the attention of the House, but it does not affect our earlier clearance of the document.


24   This occurs where the deposition of nitrogen compounds from the atmosphere leads to changes in land ecosystems, to the detriment of the significant number of plant species which prefer nitrogen-poor soils. Back

25   These include the Integrated Pollution Control and Local Air Pollution Control regimes, the Solvents Emission Directive, and Directives on Vehicle Emissions and on the Quality of Petrol and Diesel Fuels. Back


 
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