In 1996 the UK government published two reports on the UK followup to the UN Environment and Development Conference at Rio de Janeiro, 1992. The UK Biodiversity Group, established by the UK government in 1994, issued "Meeting the Rio Challenge," which reported on the progress toward the goals set by the January 1994 UK action plan for discharging obligations under the 1992 Biodiversity Convention. In addition, the government published a report outlining progress in relation to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
The House of Commons Environment Committee produced a Report on World Trade and the Environment, which focused on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its interaction with such things as eco-labelling, timber-labelling, sustainable development, agriculture, the impact of forced trade, and the international commodity-related environmental agreements.
A Government Report also confirmed that the United Kingdom would be likely to meet its targets laid down by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Second Sulphur Protocol, signed in June 1994. Consequently, previous plans for a formal sulphur dioxide emission trading scheme have been shelved, but there will still be opportunities for operators to purchase or sell spare capacity in new quotas.
The government completed its first series of voluntary agreements with the aerosol, foam, and fire-extinguishing equipment industries on the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The refrigeration and air conditioning industries did not enter into the agreements, preferring to sign a weaker "declaration of intent." The agreements are designed to ensure that users of HFCs will minimise emissions to the atmosphere. The agreements are needed to implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits the government to stabilise emissions of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by the year 2000. HFCs are now being used as a substitute for chlorofluorocarbons, but as HFCs were not in commercial use in 1990, the agreements are designed to keep emissions down to trace levels.
An order that will enable implementation of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea came into force in February. The Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) (Law of the Sea Convention) Order 1996 is an enabling statute allowing regulations to be made that control the protection and preservation of the marine environment from pollution caused beyond the territorial sea of the United Kingdom. Subsequently, in September, two sets of regulations were introduced to extend the United Kingdom's prosecution powers for marine pollution offences. The Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) Limits Regulations 1996 create a "pollution zone"