Public Goods

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Agriculture and forestry have been a positive force for biological diversity, the provision of ecosystem services such as flood control and carbon sequestration, the maintenance of valued landscapes, the provision of amenities for public access and enjoyment and for contributing to rural culture and traditional skills. Their continued provision is dependent on the protection and appropriate management of natural resources, and thereby the maintenance of the capacity to produce food, timber and other rural products.

The environmental and social assets generated through certain forms of agriculture and forestry have the characteristics of public goods because they are not adequately provided for through the market. As such, policy measures are needed to ensure their delivery. As debate on the future orientation of the CAP and the size of its budget mounts, there have been growing calls in some quarters that the only legitimate use of public funds is to support the provision of public goods, because there is no mechanism to do so through the market and because they are highly valued by society.

There are significant empirical challenges that would need to be met in order to operationalise the public goods agenda. For example, it will be important to understand what the public goods are, how large the stock is, where they are, and who is providing them. It is also important to understand how the provision of different public goods interrelate. Where do win-win situations occur, or are certain trade-offs inevitable? What instruments are most efficient at delivering public goods and how should farmers and other land managers be compensated for producing public goods? Does public goods provision in the EU have implications for environmental stocks elsewhere?

This is a debate that is likely to dominate discussions on future agricultural policy. We invite you to share your views. You may wish to consider the following questions:

  • What are the public goods provided by agriculture and forestry?
  • How broad is the stock of public goods provided through agriculture and forestry in Europe?
  • Do public goods sit exclusively within a Member State, or are any transboundary in nature? What are the implications of this for European level policy making?
  • Are there certain farming or forestry systems with which a higher proportion of public goods are associated?
  • Should farmers / foresters be compensated for the provision of public goods?
  • Should CAP support in the future be oriented towards rewarding the provision of public goods? Is this a legitimate use of European public funds? Is this is what the public wants from farmers / foresters?
  • How much support does the public goods agenda have within your Member State?
  • Does paying for the provision of public goods conflict with concerns about food security?
  • Are we in a position to be able to quantify the European stock of public goods?
  • What are the most appropriate instruments to stimulate the delivery of public goods?
  • Does the monetisation of public goods reinforce their worth in the political debate? Or do the potential inaccuracies in the figures produced mean that this is not a worthwhile avenue of future investigation?
  • Does a pursuit of the provision of public goods in Europe have implications for the global stock of environmental capital? (For example, support for extensive agricultural landscapes may limit the productive capacity of European agriculture, and thus increase the reliance of the EU on imports from more intensive farming systems in other parts of the world).
  • Does the public goods agenda provide a sufficiently robust basis to underpin the future development of agricultural policy?

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.

To make your contribution, click here.

To read other contributions, click here.