Editorial: Difficult is not a strong enough reason to passively accept

Agriculture is the foundation of food production in a world that is facing the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050. However the agricultural sector is also responsible for significant emissions of the major greenhouse gases (CO2, N2O and CH4) and of certain traditional air pollutants and their precursors (NH3, CH4 and PM).

For most other sectors that are sources of a fair share of these emissions we have seen the development of increasingly extensive regulations over the past decades: the Large Combustion Plants directive, CO2 standards for cars, the Ecodesign directive, just to mention a few. For agriculture there are, however, no similar emission control regulations.  

It must be said that agriculture in many ways differs from other kinds of production, as it is the direct result of biological processes. The rumen of a cow cannot be controlled to the same extent as an incinerator. In addition, emission sources are typically diffuse and difficult to measure. But difficult is not a strong enough reason to passively accept the 460 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents and the 3.3 million tonnes of ammonia the sector is currently responsible for within the EU-27.

At EU level, there are at least three relevant and ongoing processes where far more could be done to reduce agricultural emissions: the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) for climate, the National Emissions Ceilings directive (NEC) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Right now discussions are taking place on how to continue the ESD beyond 2020. Specific targets for the agricultural sector, similar to the EU’s targets for energy efficiency and renewable energy, could be developed for the agricultural sector.

The NEC directive is up for revision – the European Commission plans to publish its proposal next year. AirClim and two other environmental NGOs have jointly proposed that methane (in its capacity as an ozone precursor) should be added to the directive. This would force member states to take more concrete action on methane and probably also enforce measures in the agricultural sector, which accounts for a large share of these emissions.

The CAP had the initial purpose of increasing productivity and securing EU food supplies during the For agriculture there are, however, no similar emission control regulations. cold war. Environmental concerns are an element that has been added over time. The decoupling of direct payments from production through earlier CAP reforms has led to a decrease in the number of livestock, resulting in lower methane emissions from enteric fermentation and lower nitrous oxide emissions due to smaller amounts of manure. One next step could be to link the direct payments more closely to environmental requirements, for example by applying best practices and best available technology, so-called “greening”. Potential areas from a greenhouse gas and air pollutant perspective are low-nitrogen feed and optimised fertiliser and manure management.

In addition to measures within the existing political framework it is also high time to seriously consider policy interventions in order to encourage citizens to adopt more sustainable diets (see article). Possible tools to promote healthier and more sustainable diets include a climate tax on food products, environmental requirements for meals served at public institutions and information campaigns.

Kajsa Lindqvist

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