Ministers agree on ozone depleters, sulphur in gas oil

An accelerated phase-out of ozone-depleting chemicals is now certain following a meeting of EC Environment Ministers on 23 March. Ministers also agreed new controls on sulphur in gas oil and on waste produced by the titanium dioxide industry. But little progress was made on a proposal to regulate waste shipments.

The Environment Council brought rapid agreement on a European Commission proposal on ozone-depleting chemicals submitted only in early March. The proposal was not in the form of draft legislation, but a framework for a negotiating position for the EC to take into talks which begin in Geneva in April on the revision of the global Montreal Protocol on protection of the ozone layer.

Scientific investigations over the past few months have revealed a mounting threat to the ozone layer in the northern hemisphere (ENDS Report 205, p 8 ). The findings have intensified the pressure for the existing phase-out deadlines for CFCs, halons and other ozone-depleting chemicals prescribed in the Montreal Protocol to be brought forward.

Existing EC legislation generally sets tighter phase-out deadlines than those laid down by the Protocol. The EC timetables are mid-1997 for the CFCs, the end of 1997 for carbon tetrachloride, the end of 1999 for halons, and the end of 2004 for methyl chloroform. Interim reductions are also prescribed.

Ministers agreed on 23 March that the EC should seek to have all these chemicals banned by 1 January 1996, and to reduce consumption of all but methyl chloroform by 85% by 1 January 1994. As before, the base year against which this reduction would be measured would be 1986 or 1989, depending on the chemical concerned.

The reduction target agreed for methyl chloroform by January 1994 was 50%. The UK was among the countries arguing for a slower phase-out rate for this chemical on the grounds that it is used by many small businesses which face difficulties in finding substitutes.

Another two issues were agreed by Ministers. One of these was that the EC should seek to bring the HCFCs - substitutes for the CFCs which have a relatively low ozone depletion potential - under strict control in order to prevent a sharp short-term increase in consumption due to the date for CFC phase-out being advanced. A belt and braces approach, involving a ceiling on HCFC consumption, usage controls and a phase-out date, will be pursued by the EC in the Geneva talks.

The EC will also seek provision for "essential uses" of CFCs and halons to be allowed to continue beyond January 1996. Again, what constitutes an essential use will be up for discussion in Geneva.

A common position was agreed by Ministers on a Directive on the sulphur content of gas oil, proposed by the Commission last spring (ENDS Report 196, pp 36-7).

Gas oil is used as diesel fuel and as a domestic heating and industrial fuel. At least, that was what it was thought to comprise until it was discovered during expert discussions last year that an earlier Directive in this area had unintentionally caught kerosene, used in jet fuel, as well.

Agreement on the new Directive was delayed while Member States argued over whether kerosene should be taken out or kept in. The sulphur content of kerosene is generally around 0.02-0.04% by weight, but sometimes reaches up to 0.3%. The UK argued that since the sulphur level was generally so low there was no need to regulate kerosene under the Directive, while other countries maintained that if it was already so low then there should be no problem in keeping it in. Meanwhile, the European Commission insisted that the earlier legislation had established Community competence on the issue and that kerosene should remain under control - which was what was finally agreed.

This diversion complicated negotiations on the sulphur reduction programme for gas oil other than diesel. For diesel, the maximum permitted sulphur content will be cut from the present 0.3% by weight to 0.2% from 1 October 1994, and then to 0.05% from 1 October 1996.

The permitted sulphur level will also be cut to 0.2% for other types of gas oil from 1 October 1994. In its original proposal, the Commission had wanted a second reduction to 0.1% from 1 October 1999. However, a decision on the second stage, as well on sulphur levels in kerosene, will now have to await a further Commission proposal, which is due by 1 January 1994.

A proposal that at least 25% of the diesel supplied in each Member State should have a sulphur content of 0.05% from October 1995 was deleted. The UK insisted that it would have forced the costly development of a parallel distribution system for two grades of diesel. A Council minute now states that this will not be required. Instead, Member States will have to ensure that diesel with the lower sulphur content gradually becomes available from October 1994.

The legislation should eventually reduce sulphur dioxide emissions in the EC by about one million tonnes per year. The reduction in sulphur levels in diesel is also regarded as essential by engine manufacturers if heavy diesels are to meet new EC standards for particulate emissions which come into force in 1996.

A common position was also agreed on the Directive on waste from the titanium dioxide industry. This was proposed in December as a replacement for an earlier version which was struck down by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it had the wrong legal base (ENDS Report 203, p 25). The revised Directive is understood to have been adopted substantially unchanged.

Negotiations on the draft Regulation on traffic in waste (ENDS Report 190, pp 37-8/40) made little headway once again. The lack of progress could embarrass the EC if it finds itself going to the global environment summit in Brazil in June without having ratified the global Basel Convention on trans-boundary waste movements. Only one more Environment Council, on 26 May, remains for agreement to be reached on the Regulation - an essential precursor to EC ratification of the Convention.

As before, most Member States wanted to split off clauses in the Regulation which would regulate waste movements across borders within countries from those controlling waste traffic across national boundaries. But the Commission is insisting on keeping the two together, and the matter is now bogged down in a dispute over the legal base of the Regulation.

Other issues on which the Community is divided on complex lines are whether wastes should be exported from the EC at all, and if so to which third countries and under what conditions. And there is also no consensus on the degree to which Member States should become self-sufficient in waste management capacity.

Progress appears to have been made towards agreeing last year's Commission proposal for a Directive on ozone monitoring (ENDS Report 198, pp 42-3), which may be ready for adoption in May.

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