Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twentieth Report


COM (01) 579

Draft Council Decision concerning the approval, on behalf of the European
Community, of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change and the joint fulfilment of commitments

Legal base:Article 175(1)EC, in conjunction with Articles 300(2) and 300(3); consultation; qualified majority voting
Department:Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 25 February 2002
Previous Committee Report: HC 152-xv (2001-02), paragraph 9 (30 January 2002)
To be discussed in Council: 4 March 2002
Committee's assessment:Legally and politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared (decision reported on 30 January 2002), but further information requested


  12.1  In order to meet the environmental challenges presented by global warming, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) requires industrialised countries to return their emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2000 to the levels obtaining in 1990. However, the Parties to the Convention had also recognised that further action was needed beyond 2000, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol set legally binding emission targets for industrialised countries to meet by 2012. The Community has undertaken to reduce its 1990 emission levels by 8% by the period 2008-2012, with reductions by individual Member States being apportioned under the Burden Sharing Agreement.

  12.2  In October 2001, the Commission put forward this draft Council Decision, which would both allow ratification of the Protocol by the Community and approve the arrangements for sharing out the target between the Member States. However, in clearing this in our Report of 30 January 2002, we asked the Government to explain a little more fully the implications of the choice of legal base (where the Commission had initially proposed Article 174(4), but had subsequently changed this to Article 175(1)).

Minister's letter of 25 February 2002

  12.3  In his letter of 25 February 2002, the Minister of State (Environment) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Michael Meacher) says that it is the Commission's standard practice to propose Article 174(4) for instruments of this kind, just as it is the Council's consistent practice to amend the base for decision relating to the conclusion of international environmental agreements to Article 175(1). He says that, in the light of a recent opinion[36] from the European Court of Justice, the Council has since proposed that Article 175(1), which involves qualified majority voting in the Council, should be the legal base for this instrument. However, he also says that Article 175(2), which involves unanimity in the Council, provides a derogation from Article 175(1) for certain types of environmental measures, including those which significantly affect a Member State's choice as between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply.

  12.4  The Minister adds that the UK has been arguing strongly in the Council that the correct legal base for this Decision is Article 175(2), on the grounds that in the UK the energy system is the source of around 95% of carbon dioxide emissions and 80% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and that the steps needed to meet the UK's Kyoto obligations will inevitably have a significant impact on energy use and supply. He says that the majority of Member States now agree that Article 175(2) is the appropriate base, but that a change to this from the Commission's proposal for Article 175(1) will require unanimous agreement in the Council. He will therefore be discussing this with colleagues at the Environment Council on 4 March.


  12.5  We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, which does not, of course, affect our earlier clearance of this Decision. That said, we would be interested in due course to know the outcome of his further discussions with his Council colleagues on this point.

36  Opinion 22/00 of 6 December 2001 concerning the Council's Decision approving the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Back

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