Agriculture both a victim and a contributor to climate change

EU policy and legislation within key sectors that tackle climate change, like agriculture, are too flexible and make climate goals for 2030 less ambitious. This is the conclusion drawn by Faustine Defossez, Senior Policy The common agricultural policy gives 40 % from the EU’s budget (58 billions of euros annually) to the farming sector. Photo: ScanpixOfficer in Agriculture and Bioenergy at the European Environmental Bureau.

By Olga Kalatzi and Jeppe Trans

The common agricultural policy gives 40 % from the EU’s budget (58 billions of euros annually) to the farming sector.  Photo: Scanpix

The common agricultural policy gives 40 % from the EU’s budget (58 billions of euros annually) to the farming sector. Photo: Scanpix

The impacts of climate change in farming are already visible in most parts of Europe with the increasing number of floods and droughts. However, at the same time, agriculture has its own part in contributing to the problem, as it represents 10 % of the total gas emissions in Europe.

There are two mechanisms for achieving the 2020 target to reducing Greenhouse emissions, the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which includes EU targets, and non ETS for national targets for sectors not covered by the ETS. Agriculture is part of the non ETS along with waste, transport and building.

“This means that the member states can only focus on one sector and leave the others, which is what is happening with agriculture. The problem is that we have a European policy, but there is too much nationalism behind it,” Faustine says.

In opposition to this argument, Evangelos Koumentakos, Policy Advisor for Copa – Cogeca (European Farmers European Agri-Cooperatives) says: “European countries have different agricultural models and specificities even within each country. Also they are the first to be impacted by climate change and of course we must understand that we cannot control completely natural processes, but we can understand and try to enhance the good interactions between them”.

Flexibility in legislation gives the member states the possibility to find the most suitable way to implement the law, as every country has different policies and areas of interests. A common policy could potentially lead to economical loss for those that rely more on agriculture rather than on industry. For example, in Greece or Romania, but not only, where there are many grasslands, the implementation of the legislation on reduced methane would mean that the animals would have prairies would have to be abandoned, and small farmers would not be able to cope with those structural changes and get out of businesses.

“Having a common goal for all is not an ambition, we need flexibility in the legislation, it isn’t only about being ambitious but also about finding the right way to create collaborations between the different sectors of agriculture,” Evangelos says.

“It is a really difficult and complicated procedure to have common standards in agriculture within the EU because there are too many variables to consider,” agrees Jørgen Eivind Olesen, a professor in climate change and agriculture at Aarhus University.

The conflict surrounding the EU climate change policy on agriculture is just the tip of the iceberg of a bigger issue inside the EU, as 13 member states won’t be able to achieve the 2020 climate goals in non ETS ahead of COP21, according to the most recent report published by the European Commission.