Serge Wilmes, Luxembourg's Minister of the Environment, Climate and Biodiversity and Minister for the Civil Service; Credit: © SIP / Claude Piscitelli

On Monday 17 June 2024, Luxembourg hosted the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg-Kirchberg at which the Grand Duchy was represented by the Minister of the Environment, Climate and Biodiversity, Serge Wilmes. 

Several European lighthouse projects, in particular the regulations on the restoration of nature and soil surveillance, were put in place, including the following:

Regulations on the restoration of nature

The Environment Council has started at a marked moment, with the adoption of the first European regulation on the restoration of nature. Only the regulation envisages the restoration of at least 20% of European terrestrial and maritime areas here by 2030, with a priority on Natura 2000 sites, and at least 80% of poorly maintained ecological systems by 2050.

Although the draft regulation – the key pillar of the European Union's Green Pact – was already voted in the plenary session of the European Parliament on 27 February, it was withdrawn – by a necessary majority – by order of the European Environment Council.

During his intervention, Minister Serge Wilmes recalled that this law was demanded by a large majority of European citizens. The minister is convinced that the restoration of nature is more than essential from an environmental, economic and social perspective.

In view of the COP 16 on biodiversity, the Luxembourg minister again stressed that the regulation on the issue constitutes the indispensable and expected European contribution in the context of the global framework for biodiversity.

Furthermore, Minister Wilmes voted in favour of the draft regulation, which was subsequently adopted by a qualified majority in the Council. The regulation will be directly applicable in all Member States of the European Union.

Revision of the framework directive on waste

The changes are due to the arrest of a general orientation by the Ministers for the Environment on the proposal of the Commission to revise the directive-framework on waste, placing the emphasis on the textile and food sectors.

Concerned about the reduction of food waste, Minister Wilmes was pleased to maintain the ambitious objectives proposed by the Commission, which also allows to contribute to the reduction of food waste.

Concerning the management of used textiles and textile waste, the Minister also maintains the social component, allowing social enterprises and social and solidarity-based economic entities in this area to support their activities.

Directive relating to explicit environmental protection measures

The proposal for a European directive relating to explicit environmental protection measures aims to combat ecological whitewashing and to help consumers make more environmentally friendly purchasing decisions while setting the minimum requirements for the justification, communication and verification of explicit environmental protection measures.

During his intervention on this topic, Minister Wilmes welcomed the fact that the future directive will contribute to protecting consumer interests, all by promoting more sustainable commercial practices. In order to ensure a high level of ambition, the Minister called for a just balance to be maintained between combating eco-disruption, transparency and support for vulnerable companies, all while avoiding administrative burdens and excessive costs.

Soil surveillance

Following the adoption of a general Council directive, European environment ministers have agreed on the draft European directive on soil surveillance. The draft directive aims to make monitoring of the health of European soils mandatory, to provide principles for sustainable soil management and to remedy situations in which contamination presents unacceptable risks to human health and the environment.

In his intervention, Minister Wilmes marked his agreement in a spirited manner, although some persistent gaps were left, the text tabled by the Presidency constituted a nice improvement in terms of rapport with the initial version, notably by adopting a more pragmatic approach and by agreeing certain flexibility to the Member States.

Climate objective for the 2040 horizon and management of climate risks

Ministers are also changing their focus on Europe's future climate objective for 2040 as well as the management of climate risks.

Bearing in mind the objective of 2040 and the future legislative framework for its implementation, Minister Wilmes reaffirmed his support for the 90% reduction target proposed by the Commission and stressed the importance, in particular, of basing the policies climate science and ensuring consistency with the global target of 1.5°Celsius.

For Minister Wilmes, climate ambition and competitiveness are to be seen as the two faces of a single medal, and all sectors must contribute their fair share to the effort to reduce emissions. Noting that EU climate policies have already changed several key trends, Minister Wilmes said he now intends to complete the table, particularly on the side of industries and sectors "difficult to decarbonise".

When it comes to the change in climate risks, Minister Wilmes stressed that Europe is the continent that is heating up faster than the world and that no country has been spared from extreme climate events. To remedy this, the Minister is in favour of new means of cooperation between different levels of governance and the implementation of the European level.

In addition, the Minister stressed that the costs of preventive measures were risky compared to the costs of impacts and damage that could be caused by climate change in the event of inaction. In this context, the importance of solutions based on nature, the degradation of urban space, as well as the preservation and restoration of ecological systems, is also particularly important.

Eighth environmental action programme

Ministers have recently adopted conclusions concerning the evaluation of my part of the 8th environmental action programme.

Within the framework of his intervention, Minister Wilmes (among others) stressed the need to complete the package called "fit for 55", to establish a European Union climate target for 2040 compatible with the objectives of the 'Paris agreement to reduce PFAS wherever possible, to preserve and restore ecological systems and to develop a unique circular market for the European continent.

New international instrument on plastics

Finally, the Council was informed by the Belgian Presidency and the Works Progress Committee about the adoption of a new legal instrument against plastic pollution.

Minister Wilmes decided to enact a treaty before the end of the year, as he requested under the INC’s mandate. According to the Minister, "even though it is clear that compromises have to be made, the aim is to ensure that the treatment is as robust and as ambitious as possible, especially in this area which concerns key arrangements such as those relating to the production of polymer plastics primarily, chemical and polymer substances preoccupying or even financing."