Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

EP refuses to give farmers free pass on air quality rules

  • The digestive process in ruminants like cows cause methane emissions, which creates health-endangering pollutants (Photo: Russ Allison Loar)

The agriculture sector should not be exempt from new EU rules that limit air pollution, the plenary session of the European Parliament decided on Wednesday (28 October).

It voted to include emission limits for the agriculture-related pollutants methane and ammonia, defying a lobby from the agriculture industry. The legislation deals with ceilings for six pollutants which EU member states are not allowed to exceed by 2030.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

However, while the legislation will include methane, a last-minute oral amendment from French MEP Eric Andrieu passed which excluded "enteric methane", which is caused by the digestive process of livestock.

"This house does not have the power to stop cows from farting and burping", Andrieu said, causing laughter as well as head-shaking from his colleagues.

MEPs also decided to add intermediate binding targets for each EU country by 2025, although they rejected the “more ambitious” targets for 2030 that the EP's environment committee had proposed.

The vote in Strasbourg in the afternoon followed a debate that same morning during which mainly centre-right members of the European Parliament argued in favour of the agriculture sector, and asked for ammonia and methane to be taken out of the legislation.

Nearly all ammonia emissions in the EU are caused by agriculture, while the sector is responsible for the production of 40 percent of methane emissions.

“The very ambitious goal for ammonia is not acceptable and [is] going to be disadvantageous to European farming”, said German centre-right MEP Jens Gieseke, calling for a “proper balance between better air quality and competitive farming”.

“We can't accept Dutch cows being banned from the fields because Europe has carried out a improvident rule”, said Dutch MEP Peter van Dalen, member of the mildly eurosceptic ECR group.

The agriculture-defending MEPs said that methane should be excluded from the air quality directive, because there are already climate targets for methane, which is also a greenhouse gas. But this argument of “double regulation” is not entirely justified because countries will only be obliged to reduce greenhouse gases, and could theoretically focus all attention on other gases and give the agriculture sector a free pass.

Vella's fact-checking

The EU's environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, disputed the “claims” being made by MEPs.

“There is no need to change the structure of the agriculture sector. No action is needed from small farms, and there is no need to push intensification nor to reduce animal numbers”, said Vella.

He later added that the new rules “will not have any negative effect on animal welfare and will not require keeping them inside as some of you tried to suggest”.

The Maltese politician said that “efforts are needed from all sectors”.

“The cost of current legislation falls almost entirely on industry, transport and households. Only 2 percent of those large costs fall on agriculture. To move forward, sectors that have so far contributed little, will need to do more”, said Vella.

Ambitious but pragmatic

However, Vella also told MEPs they should not lower the ceilings too much, because following the vote, the EP will need to find agreement on the targets with the Council, which represents national governments.

“It will be very important that positions of co-legislators do not diverge too much”, he said, expressing his concern that if the EP started on positions that were “too far from the Council, this would jeopardise the chances of agreement”.

Vella echoed the cautiousness of the rapporteur on the file, British Conservative MEP Julie Girling.

“To those of you who are thinking of voting for even tougher targets: think very carefully”, she said at the start of the debate. She noted national governments had not yet come up with a common position.

“They are waiting for this plenary. Let's not signal intransigence. Let's not play to the gallery. The EP should be ambitious but also pragmatic”, added Girling.

Other MEPs disagreed.

Centre-left German Matthias Groote criticised those who “are already putting their foot on the brake”.

“We shouldn't be throwing in the towel at the beginning of the exercise and lower ambition”, he noted.

His colleague from the British Labour party, Seb Dance, brought to mind the human race is “an amazing adaptive species”.

“We have conquered diseases, we have extended our life expectancy, we even landed on the moon. I refuse to believe that it is beyond our wit to grow our economies, travel the world and farm our land without poisoning the air. If we set ourselves this ambition there is no limit to what we can achieve”, he said.

And the stakes are high: an estimated 400,000 people die prematurely every year due to air pollution.

“Air pollution causes ten times more deaths each year than traffic accidents”, noted British Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder. “The long-term benefits of improving air quality will far outweigh the short-term costs.”

Disappointed environmentalists

Environmental lobby groups expressed their disappointment after the vote, calling it a “missed opportunity”.

“Thousands of people will die or suffer debilitating illnesses like heart disease, asthma attacks and strokes because the parliament failed to adopt stricter pollution limits”, said ClientEarth in a statement.

The NGO European Environmental Bureau noted the “higher targets were cost-effective and feasible, and … would save more lives”.

The next step in the legislative process is to wait for a common position from national governments, after which representatives from both institutions can begin negotiations for a final compromise.

Lobbyists play tug-of-war with MEPs on farm emissions

On Wednesday, the European Parliament will vote on new air quality rules. The key question is whether two agriculture-related pollutants, methane and ammonia, will be included in the legislation.

Why are European farmers unhappy?

EU farm ministers will hold a special meeting to discuss the pressures facing farmers across the bloc. But many factors are beyond their control.

MEPs snub regulation of cow methane

Methane is second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. But MEPs voted to exclude "enteric methane," which is 80 to 85 percent of agriculture's share of emissions.

News in Brief

  1. EU investigating BMW, Daimler and VW 'collusion'
  2. Spain wants special Gibraltar chapter in Brexit deal
  3. Italy cancels Vienna talks over South Tyrol 'dual citizenship'
  4. Britain will not accept Brexit deal with Irish Sea border
  5. Slovakia seeks witness to journalist killing
  6. Finland's Stubb considers running for EU commission job
  7. Romania ponders anti same-sex marriage referendum
  8. EU lawyers back Slovenia in Croatia border dispute

Focus

EU-China cooperation on CO2 storage lost in limbo

A long-standing cooperation between the EU and China on carbon capture and storage has fallen off the political agenda – with the European Commission not having any comment available when asked for an update.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  2. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  3. New book: Why war is coming
  4. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  5. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful
  6. 10 years after Lehman Brothers what has changed for EU consumers?
  7. Sefcovic launches bid to be EU Commission president
  8. Is Russia blackmailing the Council of Europe?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us