A mere 7.7 per cent of  all agricultural land in the EU is projected to be under management contracts that aim to reduce greenhouse and/or ammonia emissions by 2020. Photo: Flickr.com / Renaus Camus  CC BY

CAP delivers meagre climate action

Climate action is one of three overarching objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), though only a small fraction of the funding goes to climate measures on the ground.

A new report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, examines how the EU agriculture sector has been treated and affected by climate policy so far, and the implications of the current climate regime. It also considers what role the CAP can play in supporting climate action within the agriculture sector and provides thoughts on the future role of the CAP in this regard.

Climate was first highlighted as one of the priorities for agricultural and land management payments under the rural development policy in the CAP in 2007. In the health check in 2008/2009 it was addressed further and climate was one of five priorities that received additional funding. Since 2014, climate action has been one of three cross-cutting priorities for the whole CAP. There is also a commitment under the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2014–2020 to devote at least 20 per cent of the Union budget to support for climate change objectives.
CAP is divided into two pillars. The first pillar consists of direct payments to farmers, and 30 per cent of these payments are conditional on three “greening” measures. The first one, crop diversification, has little or no climate implications. The other two, ecological focus areas (EFAs) and permanent grasslands, have slightly more potential.

The EFA requirement means that farms with more than 15 hectares of arable land must ensure that an area equivalent to 5 per cent of their arable land is an EFA. Member states can choose from a list of 10 types of land use that can be compiled to the national list of EFAs, including fallow land, landscape features (hedges, trees, ponds, etc.), buffer strips, short rotation coppice, agro-forestry and nitrogen-fixing crops. Several of them can lead to increased carbon sequestration, while nitrogen-fixing crops can reduce the need for mineral nitrogen fertilisers and thus reduce emissions of nitrous oxide.

The permanent grasslands obligation is probably the one with most potential and implies that member states must protect and keep their ratio of Natura 2000 grassland. This contributes to continued storage of coal in the ground and, until a possible equilibrium is reached, continued carbon sequestration.

The first pillar also contains voluntary coupled support, a remnant from the previous payment system. This gives member states the opportunity to give extra support to specific types of farming because of “environmental, social or economic reasons”. Today, the largest part goes to farming involving ruminants, including: beef, dairy, sheep and goat farming. It is difficult to draw any other conclusions than that this support leads to larger herds and consequently to increased methane emissions from enteric fermentation.

In the second pillar, there are more measures that explicitly target climate action, but also a great deal of flexibility for member states on how and what measures to implement. Member states design their own Rural Development Programs (RDPs) on the basis of a given framework, and the results vary considerably.

The regulation offers a total of 19 measures and numerous sub-measures. The measures must work towards six priorities of which member states must address at least four. The most relevant from a climate perspective is Priority 5, which promotes resource efficiency and the shift towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, has five focus areas:

  • increasing efficiency in water use in agriculture;
  • increasing efficiency in energy use in agriculture and food processing;
  • facilitating the supply and use of renewable sources of energy;
  • reducing greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions from agriculture; and
  • fostering carbon conservation and sequestration in agriculture and forestry.

However only 8 per cent of the total public expenditure allocated to RDPs has been allocated to this priority. About a quarter of this funding went to efficiency in water use, leaving even less for pure climate mitigation. The “investments in physical assets” measure was most widely used, except in the focus area of carbon sequestration, where a group of forest measures were most common; these could be for planting woodland on farmland, creating new agro-forestry systems, and even for afforestation of agricultural land.

Of significance is also the “agri-environment-climate measure” that provides payments to farmers who subscribe, on a voluntary basis, to a number of environmental commitments set by the member state. The proportion of land projected to be under management contracts targeting a reduction of greenhouse gases and/or ammonia emissions by 2020 is 7.7 per cent and the corresponding figure for land being managed under contracts targeting carbon sequestration and conservation is 1.8 per cent.

The main conclusion is that though climate is one of the three cross-cutting priorities for the CAP, only a small fraction of the funding goes to climate action related measures. This is because the mandatory elements, mainly allocated in the first pillar of the CAP, only consist of measures with zero or marginal effects on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage. The second pillar, where there is a greater potential to target climate action, contains a high degree of flexibility for member states in the way it is implemented. However, since there are no explicit climate targets for agriculture and it is possible for most countries to fulfil their climate commitments under effort sharing without making further efforts in agriculture, there are no real incentives for member states to prioritise climate measures under the CAP.

The authors call for a low-carbon and resilience roadmap for the sectors involved to 2050 and also list six priorities on how to enhance climate action through the CAP:

  1. Protect carbon-rich soils, prevent ploughing on all carbon-rich permanent grassland; put in place conservation measures for those carbon-rich soils under cultivation; and maintain woody features (such as hedges, trees, etc.).
  2. Minimising losses of and increasing soil organic matter in all soils.
  3. Encourage the more efficient management of nutrients on agricultural land.
  4. Information via the Farm Advisory Service on climate mitigation and adaptation issues are now optional, but could be made compulsory.
  5. Ensure that the role policy plays in encouraging climate mitigation efforts is recognised and that climate impacts are better reported.Direct payments and coupled support provided to the livestock sector, continue to favour higher yield areas. From a climate perspective, there needs to be a more rapid change in the orientation of the CAP so that it becomes truly production neutral in nature.

Discussions on the shape of the next CAP for the period post-2020 are currently underway. In a recent speech, commissioner Phil Hogan said: “the CAP needs to step up to the plate and help to deliver on our ambitious international agreements, such as the SDGs and the Paris agreement on climate change”. How serious he is on that issue will hopefully show in the communication on “modernising and simplifying the CAP”, that the commission is expected to present before the end of this year.

Kajsa Pira

The report: Research for Agri committee – the consequences of climate change for EU agriculture. Follow-up to the COP21 – UN Paris Climate Change Conference http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2017/585914/IPOL_STU(2017)585914_EN.pdf

Emissions from agriculture in the EU

Agriculture, counting only non-CO2 emissions, is the fifth-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, contributing to 11.3 per cent of the emissions. Non-CO2 emissions being enteric fermentation (43%), the management of agricultural soils (38%) and manure management (15%). Non-CO2 emissions from the agricultural sector fell by 21 per cent between 1990 and 2014. However, these figures are largely not the result of an active climate policy but because the number of animals fell sharply during the 1990s, due to the collapsing agriculture in eastern Europe. Emissions also fell due to reductions in fertiliser inputs, as a result of the Nitrogen Directive that was put in place to protect water resources. By 2030 EU agricultural emissions are projected to decrease by only 2.3 per cent compared to 2005.

There are also CO2 emissions from energy and transport used in agriculture and emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) that are reported under other headings to the UNFCCC. The non-CO2 emissions from agriculture and CO2 emissions from transport and heating in agriculture are included in the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) for 2013–2020 and in the draft of the subsequent Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) 2020–2030. Emissions from LULUCF are covered by a separate regulation and have no common EU targets. However, in the proposal for ESR, emissions from LULUCF will be introduced as a possible flexibility to compensate emission reductions by as much as 5 per cent.



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