Climate Change

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The scientific evidence suggests that an increase in temperature of more than two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels is extremely hazardous. To avoid this the EU must cut emissions by more than 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050. Europe, therefore, needs to put in place both mitigation and adaptation strategies in order to meet these targets and, in so doing, attain many fundamental social, economic and environmental objectives, including those related to long term food security. Agriculture, and forestry, can play a key role in these strategies.

EU Policy Commitments

To date there is an EU commitment to:

  • Reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-15 by eight per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2008 - 2012;
  • Integrate climate change mitigation/adaptation objectives/ actions into all relevant European policies;
  • Ensure that alternative fuels, including biofuels, account for at least 5.75 per cent of transport fuel by 2010, and for at least ten per cent of liquid transport fuels consumed in the EU by 2020 (political agreement, although regulation not yet agreed); and
  • Reduce final energy consumption by nine per cent by 2017.

The proposal for a renewable energy Directive, launched as part of the Commission’s climate and energy package on 23 January 2008, suggests a binding requirement for ten per cent of energy consumed by road transport to be from renewable sources by 2020. Separately, the proposed amendments to the 1998 Fuel Quality Directive, if adopted, would be expected to increase demand for biofuel in order to meet a target to reduce the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from road transport fuels (and that used for non-road machinery) by ten per cent by 2020 (with intermediary targets to ensure a systematic decline).

Since the ten per cent biofuel target was first proposed, concerns have grown over the possible impact of biofuels on world food prices, biodiversity and indirect land use change leading to very large releases of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As a result, there have been various proposals to water down the target, to bolster the rigour of review requirements, to tighten environmental safeguards and to include secondary targets to limit the proportion of first generation biofuels that can contribute to the target. It is anticipated that this target will be amended during the legislative process. It is, however, still reasonable to assume that the incentive to increase biofuel production will remain, albeit differently formulated, ultimately influencing farm management decisions such as the area of land dedicated to the production of bioenergy feedstocks as well as the intensity of land use.

Agriculture policy is one area of EU competence, along with climate policy, and, to some degree, energy policy that can play a part in both adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

The agriculture and forestry sectors can both contribute to reductions in emissions. This can be done, for example, through carbon sequestration in soils and forests. They offer a significant potential source of renewable energy, displacing the use of fossil fuels, but produced on the same land that would otherwise be available for food and conventional crop production.

Adaptation activities aim to minimise the negative effects of climate change. Not only with the agricultural and forestry sectors themselves need to adapt to ensure the continuation of their productive capacity, but they also have a central role to play in helping biodiversity adapt to a changing climate. It is particularly relevant to the future of rural areas because many adaptive strategies, particularly with regard to nature, food production and water management, will take place within rural areas.

Some of the policy measures for responding to the challenges posed by climate change are included within the CAP. As we move forward, there is a need to ensure these tools are adequate. We welcome you thoughts on how a European policy should support the substitution of fossil fuels, underpin mitigation efforts and assist rural areas and wildlife adapt to climate change. The fit of agricultural policy within a broader policy framework in responding to such objectives is one component of the debate.

You may wish to consider the following questions:

  • What are the objectives that should apply to the agriculture (sector in order to meet long term emission reduction goals?
  • Should carbon sequestration on farmland in the EU count towards a national emission reduction target and therefore be recorded or incentivised under national policy?
  • Given the relatively small scale and diffuse nature of farming activity, and that emissions are difficult to monitor when compared to those generated by the industrial and energy supply industries, can agriculture be captured by formal climate policies?
  • Do climate change mitigation and adaptation issues require a sectoral focus, or can they be adequately catered for by generic climate policies?
  • How can current CAP measures be improved or adjusted in order to support adaptation to climate change? What are the measures that provide multiple benefits for both climate and other environmental goals?
  • What is the case for building a framework for a coherent land use policy that more tightly links agricultural policy with energy policy?
  • What is the most appropriate policy strategy for ensuring crops grown for biofuels are grown sustainably, result in an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions / are carbon neutral and do not create additional environmental pressures within and outside of Europe?
  • Should the focus of the CAP be broadened to take greater account of woodland and forestry issues in relation to the role they can play in addressing the climate challenge?
  • If there is greater competition for land between the growth of crops for food production and those grown for fuel, should the EU consider relaxing rules on GMOs, if there is evidence to suggest that genetically modified crops result in higher yields?

Please do not feel bound by these questions. If there are other key questions that you feel need addressing, then please feel free to do so.

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12 Nov 2008