New Common Agricultural Policy: How much greener will it be?
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New Common Agricultural Policy: How much greener will it be?

Unsplash/Marcin Jozwiak

The provisional political agreement reached on Friday night between the European Parliament, Council and Commission on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to be introduced during the current budget period promises a fairer, greener, more animal friendly and flexible policy with higher environmental and climate ambitions.

According to the Commission, the new CAP will also ensure a fairer distribution of CAP support, especially to small and medium-sized family farms and young farmers. Based on simpler rules set up at EU level, each member state will prepare a strategic plan to implement the policy over the next five years. This will allow them to take local conditions into account and to focus on performance.

“Throughout the negotiations, the Commission has worked for a new CAP that can support the Green Deal,” said Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans. In charge of the European Green Deal, he was referring to the objective of the 55 % greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions reductions by 2030 aiming at climate neutrality by 2050 and the EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies.

“The agreement reached today marks the start of a real shift in how we practice agriculture in Europe. In the next years, we will protect wet- and peatlands, dedicate more farmland to biodiversity, boost organic farming, open up new income sources for farmers via carbon farming, and begin to redress inequalities in the distribution of income support.”

However, the changes appear moderate to start with. The CAP will be somewhat fairer with a mandatory redistribution of income support but big Agri companies will continue to receive most of the support as member states will only have redistribute at least 10% to the benefit of smaller farms.

The CAP will be greener but the minimum requirements to receive support is that every farm will have to dedicate at least 3% of arable land to biodiversity and non-productive elements, with a possibility to receive a support via so-called Ecoschemes to achieve 7%. All wetlands and peatlands will be protected.

The Ecoschemes are mandatory for member states to offer but will apparently be a voluntary instrument to reward farmers for implementing climate and environmentally-friendly practices such as organic farming, agroecology, and integrated pest management as well as animal welfare improvements.

Member states must allocate at least 25% of their income support budget to Ecoschemes, a total of €48 billion of the direct payments budget. This is less than the 30 % the European Parliament had proposed and might be even less in reality, according to the Greens/EFA in the Parliament.

“This agreement falls short of the Green Deal ambition and the transformation and reorientation of EU agricultural policy that farmers, biodiversity and the climate so badly need,” the political group commented. “The CAP was supposed to be the big building block of the Green Deal. What remains is a series of empty slogans with big agri-business as usual or, in many cases, a deterioration of the status quo.”

The deal between the three European institutions comes only a week after the publication of the special audit report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) on the impact of the CAP on greenhouse-gas emissions during the previous budget period.

Despite the more than €100 billion the EU invested in climate change in the last six years, the agricultural sector’s greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, chemical fertilisers and manure, and land use have not decreased. A previous audit report from July 2020 showed the EU lacked reliable tracking of climate spending during the 2014 – 2020 period.

No specific climate objectives in CAP

The Commission partially accepted the most important audit recommendation on inviting the member states to establish a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their agricultural sectors.

According to the Commission’s reply, which arrived late and contrary to audit practice was published separately, there are no specific mitigation targets for agriculture because they have been covered by national reduction targets and, in the Green Deal, will be part of the emission targets for the whole EU economy.

The recent ECA audit showed that this has not worked in the past. “We believe that if member states would set themselves a target for agriculture, it would be easier for the Commission to assess whether this target is ambitious and whether the measures planned to be supported are likely to achieve it,” Viorel Stefan, the ECA member responsible for the report, told The Brussels Times.

“Already setting a target would require member states to think about supporting measures that can bring GHG emission reduction. Most member states did not need any reduction in GHG emissions from agriculture to meet the 2020 emission target. However, for 2030 the targets are much more challenging and for most countries, in order to achieve them, the agriculture sector would have to contribute too.”

In that sense we are partly optimistic, he added. “On the other hand, we saw targets that some member states set for emissions from agriculture during 2014-2020 and we noticed that either the targets were not ambitious or that in reality the targets were not met.”

The audit report is full of interesting data and graphs but a clear overview of the total emission reductions (or increases) from the total agricultural sector by member state is missing.

“We of course have analysed data but we needed to limit the length of our report,” he explained. “Moreover, it was not possible to share the data on GHG emissions from agriculture for all countries in a user-friendly way. Concerning the tracking of funds used for climate action, there is data available at EU level (over 100 billion euro) but not at member state level.”

“In relation to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it should be noted that agricultural emissions have been reduced by more than 20% since 1990,” the Commission commented.  “This reduction occurred while agricultural production continued to grow. As a result, the climate footprint per unit of output in the EU continued to improve and it is one of the lowest worldwide.”

That said, the Commission admits that the reduction has stopped in the recent years. “We are aware that more needs to be done in terms of climate and emissions to achieve the EU’s ambitious climate targets for 2030 (reaching at least a reduction of 55% of emissions by 2030 in the EU). The EU will continue working towards achieving this target.”

The Commission underlines that the new CAP will provide more tools to support further the national climate strategies for the achievement of higher 2030 emissions reduction targets. “In this respect, the new CAP will set a strong link between the national CAP Strategic plans and the national climate and energy plans.”

EU agriculture has reduced its GHG emissions over the last three decades and almost all member states have reduced emissions of methane (CH4) from agriculture since 1990, according to the Commission. “Total methane (CH4) emissions from the livestock sector in the EU-28 decreased by 21.2% from 1990 to 2017.”

“The new CAP must be more ambitious regarding climate action, both mitigation and adaptation,” a Commission source said.

There are common EU climate objectives. “The member states will have to describe in their CAP Strategic plans how their ‘green architecture’ will allow the objectives and targets set at EU level to be reached, using the instruments available at EU level.” The Commission will assess the CAP Strategic Plans and promises to carefully take into consideration the climate ambition.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times