Climate change is one of the most pressing issues the world is dealing with currently and the first step in tackling it is recognising what causes it. In this sense, it is worth mentioning that the agricultural sector plays a major role in climate change, having been responsible for around 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the EU in 2015. Moreover, despite emissions having been reduced in this field by almost 20% when compared to figures from 1990, the GHG rates have not dropped in the past 10 years.
Furthermore, agriculture plays an important role in shaping biodiversity, with farms covering almost 40% of EU land mass. Modern farming often favours the monoculture of crops (growing only a single type of crop on large swathes of land), as that allows farmers to maximise production, yet such a practice heavily damages the local ecosystem. This only adds to the extensive use of fertilisers, which contributes to soil degradation and water pollution.
In order to deal with these issues, the EU has come up with several policies as part of the Green Deal strategy. The initiative aims to transform agriculture to be more sustainable and to reduce its environmental impact. Yet with such ambitious plans many farmers fear that they will not be able to comply with the new policy due to a lack of resources.
The EU has a difficult task of making agriculture more sustainable while ensuring that farmers are supported in this transition and that the reform will not limit food accessibility for consumers.
In order to understand it better, take a look at:
In the past, the EU policy-actions have focused on increasing the efficiency of agriculture and regulating the volume of agricultural production, often without accounting for environmental change. With the New European Green Deal, the EU wants agriculture to shift from efficiency to sustainability in an effort not only to limit climate change and support biodiversity, but also to ensure that the agricultural sector does not become vulnerable in the long-term. Therefore, there are three main conflicts: sustainability and climate change; biodiversity protection and farmers’ priorities; and lack of resources and lack of a unified direction.
Sustainability and climate change
In order to fully understand this issue, it is necessary to note that agriculture has a significant impact on climate change in various ways. It is also important to understand that unlike in other areas, in agriculture the vast majority of GHGs produced are not carbon dioxide (CO2) but mostly methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO2), which are considerably more harmful. The main contributors of those emissions are:
Enteric fermentation, a process which occurs naturally in the digestive system of cattle or sheep. It is the largest single source of methane in the EU. This process is the reason that production of 1 kg of beef releases around 13 kg of CO2, 1 kg of lamb and pork produces 17.4 and 6.4 kg of CO2 respectively with 1 kg of potatoes releasing only about 0.2 kg of CO2. Considering that the average European eats around 86 kg of meat each year it is clear that high meat consumption is contributing to the high level emissions in this sector.
Reducing Enteric Methane for improving food security and livelihoods
Agriculture and Climate Change in the EU: An Overview
Biodiversity protection and farmers’ priorities
Organic farming statistics
The majority of EU farms, regardless of their size, grow crops and breed animals for commercial purposes. In 2019, organic agriculture accounted only for 8% of the EU's agriculture and was very unevenly present throughout Member States. That means that the majority of farmers favour the use of pesticides, monoculture of crops and antimicrobials in order to obtain as many cereals and animal products as possible since the farmers’ income depends on how much they are able to produce. This means that especially in Eastern Europe where farming is less mechanised and farmers’ incomes are lower, many of them simply can not afford to shift towards sustainable agricultural practices.
Lack of resources and lack of a unified direction
Another issue making the introduction of new ecological policies difficult, are the vast disparities between Member States both at legislative levels and developmental ones. Farmers in some countries do not have easy access to advanced farming equipment and other techniques making the production of food more efficient. And because of that they have to rely on non-ecological methods of farming to be able to remain competitive on the market. Furthermore, in less developed economies the lack of access to more ecological fertilisers and antimicrobial products as well as to education about modern farming techniques prevails. With the new Green Deal pushing for sustainable agriculture, many farmers find themselves helpless in implementing the proposed measure.
Farmers income per work unit depending on a country
What becomes clear, is that the EU has to find a balance between economic and ecological aims. On one hand, it has to limit the impact agriculture has on the environment, which ultimately drives the costs of agricultural practices up, and on the other, it has to support farmers and ensure access to resources, technology and knowledge. And the fact that requirements are identical for farmers from different countries makes ensuring that farmers from all Members Stets are equally supported an issue that has to be addressed.
For more information on this:
The EU has a shared competence with Member States in terms of agriculture and environmental protection. This means that both the EU and the 27 Member States’ governments have to agree on the proposed legislation, consult each other on the matters at hand and work together towards implementing the necessary measures.
The main EU actors playing a part in this topic are:
European Parliament creates laws regulating the agriculture, sets the EU budget and consequently allocates funds to agriculture and controls the actions of the European Commission.
The European Commission is the executive body of the EU tasked with proposing legislation on which the Parliament and the Council further vote. It consists of 27 commissioners with Janusz Wojciechowski being the Commissioner for Agriculture and Frans Timmermans being Executive Vice President responsible for the European Green Deal.
The Directorate-General on Agriculture and Rural Development is responsible for EU policy on agriculture and rural development and deals with all aspects of the CAP.
Member States’ governments and their agricultural ministers also play a very important role in shaping and implementing policies on this topic. They can implement policies supporting farmers on their own in addition to those passed by the EU. And because the situation of farmers varies, it gives them the opportunity to more adequately address the needs of farmers.
On the international level, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is creating worldwide guidelines and coordinating interstate cooperation on agricultural policies. In addition to the FAO’s work, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is conducting leading research on climate change and its effects on various policy areas.
There are also many non-governmental organisations such as WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe or the European Environmental Bureau which run campaigns raising awareness about environmental issues, conduct research on the topic and are working with the farmers to facilitate their change to greener agriculture.
And finally, the farmers themselves have a very important role in this process as they are not only the subject of the debate over the future of EU agriculture, but it is they who will implement the changes in the field. And the EU and Member States’ role is to make sure they are capable of shifting to greener agriculture.
If you wish to research more on this matter:
Transformation to more sustainable methods of food manufacturing is one of the key elements of the EU’s Green Deal initiative that has just been introduced. The main aim of the project is achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 with other, more specific goals set for the year 2030. In the area of agriculture these changes are implemented through the CAP.
The EU, through the new Green Deal, wishes to:
support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable supply of affordable food;
ensure EU farmers can make a reasonable living;
help tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources;
maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU.
The EU is dedicating almost 35% of its entire annual budget to agriculture. This is why the CAP is one of the largest and most important EU policies, and it takes action through:
Direct payments and subsidies for farmers to ensure their financial stability and promote environmentally friendly farming;
Market regulation aiming to stabilise agricultural markets, prevent market crises, boost demand and help EU agricultural sector to better adapt to market changes;
Rural development measures mostly through regional and national programmes created to address the specific needs and challenges facing rural areas.
Furthermore, the EU has introduced a Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to greatly reform agriculture by making production, distribution and consumption more sustainable. Its aims are both to change the way food is produced by making that process more sustainable, but also to change the consumption habits of Europeans by promoting sustainable food consumption and minimising food waste. Its direct aims are to make 25% of EU agriculture organic, reduce the use of pesticides by 50%, reduce the use of fertilizers by 20%, and reduce the use of antimicrobials in agriculture by 50% by 2030.
European Commision(2021); Farm to Fork Strategy – for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system
The Farm to Fork strategy is a part of an initiative to transform the EU’s economy into a circular economy. This means eliminating waste and ensuring the continual and sustainable use of resources by employing reusing, sharing, repairing, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system.
For more information:
Before the session, make sure to familiarise yourself with the TO as it will be the basis for discussion in our committee. I would also highly encourage you to do some additional research on your own, for example by checking out the sources listed at the end of each section. Additionally, I would like you to write a short essay (around 300 to 400 words long) about the challenges farmers in your country are facing in relation to the proposed changes and what the proposals from your government and EU to resolve them are.