Sunday

17th Oct 2021

Analysis

Commission bets on states to make farm policy 'green'

  • 'The commission's plans offer almost no protection for health, the environment and climate,' said NGO Greenpeace in response (Photo: Stijn te Strake)

The European Commission is leaving it up to member states to propose how much greenhouse gas reductions the EU's agricultural sector should achieve during the next EU budget period (2021-2027).

It is giving national governments the freedom to come up with their own 'strategic plans' in which they explain how they will achieve the overarching European goals of the common agriculture policy (CAP).

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However, the common climate goals are worded so broadly that there is no assurance that the EU will indeed end up with climate action that is in line with the 2015 global 'Paris agreement' on climate.

The 'EU specific objective' on climate that the commission laid down in the annex to a legislative proposal, presented on Friday (1 June), said: "Contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable energy".

The 'impact indicators' through which that objective should be achieved, said that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture should be reduced, but not by how much.

That means that the actual efforts the 27 EU member states will not be known until they have submitted their national plans for the first year of the new CAP regime, 2021.

A commission source who briefed journalists about the proposal - on condition of anonymity - said on Friday that member states had an overall commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.

That will be taken into account when the commission assesses the strategic plans, the source said, noting that the commission will have to approve the plans.

"Clearly member states have to demonstrate their higher level of ambition. So when they submit their strategic plans, their level of ambition has to be higher than what they are today," said the commission official.

But again, that does not guarantee that the aggregate of member state plans will contain enough ambition to help the EU reduce emissions in line with 'Paris'.

The goal of the Paris agreement is to limit global warming, which is already at 1.1C above the pre-industrial average, to 1.5C if possible, but definitely below 2C.

There are 2030 reduction targets for each EU member state for ammonia emissions, which are almost exclusively produced by the agriculture sector.

Ammonia, however, has mostly negative consequences on the environment, like decreased biodiversity and acid deposition.

More important in the context of climate change is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Over half of all methane emissions in the EU come from agriculture. However the EU has no specific reduction targets for methane.

The commission said on Friday that 40 percent of the CAP's €365bn budget was "expected to contribute to climate action".

However, the commission source briefing journalists conceded that this was only an estimate, and that it would depend on the measures which member states were expected to propose in their national plans.

One novelty from the CAP will be that member states will be required to offer voluntary "eco-schemes" that benefit the environment and climate.

"The whole idea and the logic of the eco-schemes, which are flexible, is to allow people to make the transition from a more conventional type of agriculture to the one that moves into more environmental practices," said the commission source.

Here again, the commission will leave it to member states to define what constitutes as "agricultural practices beneficial for the climate and the environment".

Heavy criticism from NGOs

Environmental groups are very sceptical.

Greenpeace released a statement saying the new CAP proposal "could spell disaster for [the] environment".

"The new CAP proposal gives national governments the responsibility to define national agriculture plans, but does not set the safeguards necessary to ensure that these plans protect public health, the environment and the climate," the environmental lobby group said.

"The commission's plans offer almost no protection for health, the environment and climate," it added.

Another group, Birdlife, also criticised the lack of guarantees.

"The reform pins all its hopes to achieve EU objectives on wishful thinking, assuming that member states will pursue public over vested interests," it said.

"Nature cannot survive another decade of intensive agriculture, so MEPs and agriculture ministers need to wake up and make the CAP another reason for citizens to believe in the EU project," it added.

MEPs and agriculture ministers will need to agree with the proposal before it can become law.

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