Informal Agriculture Council Discusses Climate Change and Agriculture

EU Agriculture Ministers met from 13 - 15 September for an Informal Agriculture Council in Växjö, Sweden. Talks were hosted by the Swedish Minister for Agriculture Eskil Erlandsson, and focused on the theme of agriculture and climate change. Member States emphasised the need for an increase in support for research and development and additional funding for incentive payments within rural development programmes for tackling climate change. Although no legislative proposals were put on the table, further debates on these issues were seen as critical in the run up to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

Earlier discussions had centered around the continuing ‘dairy crisis’ in response to which the Commission has subsequently published a new package of short and long term measures. In addition, the Swedish Presidency, under pressure from some Member States, has just announced an additional informal meeting of Agriculture Ministers on 5 October.

Climate Spotlight Turns to Agriculture

On the final day of the informal Agriculture Council, Ministers turned their attention to the future role of EU agriculture in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Recognition of agriculture’s potential to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was made at the Council, with discussions leading to general support for the need for increased research and development, as well as voluntary style incentive measures, such as those within Rural Development Programmes (RDPs), to promote the delivery of climate friendly farming.

Debates were guided by the Swedish Presidency’s pre-Council paper on climate change and agriculture, building on an earlier report entitled ‘The challenge for European agricultural and rural areas’ published in April alongside the Commission’s White Paper on adaptation (COM(2009)147), in addition to a July working document on agriculture and climate change mitigation. The three day talks were hosted by the Swedish Minister for Agriculture Eskil Erlandsson, whilst his colleague Carl-Johan Lindén, who chairs Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA), stated in the run up to the meeting ‘that the issue of how the CAP should be structured to combat climate change will become central in the next few years’.

Agriculture as ‘Part of the Solution’

With the Swedish Presidency placing a priority on climate change issues, Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel was keen to stress that agriculture is ‘part of the solution as well as the problem’, recalling that a 20 per cent reduction in GHG emissions has already been achieved since 1990 (largely attributed to declines in the numbers of EU livestock, particularly in the beef and dairy sectors).

A 20 per cent reduction in GHG emissions has already been achieved since 1990...

However, pressure remains on EU agriculture to produce more food while simultaneously reducing GHG emissions. As such, Member States agreed that research and development, focusing particularly on the development of innovative solutions, should play a vital role in helping to meet these future challenges. Particular areas flagged as a focus for future research and development by Member States included the production of biomass in both the forestry and farming sectors, and an exploration of the carbon storage potential of soils, especially carbon rich soils such as grasslands.

Voluntary Framework to Prevail

Pillar Two measures were commended by several Member States as a means to promote climate and eco-friendly farming, with examples of incentive based measures working well to address climate change being cited by Sweden, Poland and the UK. Talks then turned to the desirability of an increase in funding attributed to Pillar Two, with Swedish Farm Minister Eskil Erlandsson going so far as to say that there is no reason why it should not outweigh Pillar One in the future, although concerns were raised by some Member States over the provision of further resources to Pillar Two. Mariann Fischer Boel highlighted that an additional €4.2 billion will already become available from January 2010 for use within Rural Development Programmes on the ‘new challenges’ as a result of the CAP Health Check, although no indication of what proportion of this funding will be dedicated to climate change was given.

The subject of introducing binding measures to ensure the farming sector’s contribution to climate change mitigation was notably treated with caution, however there were calls for agriculture to be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), thus requiring obligatory limits on farm emissions.

There were calls for agriculture to be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Fischer Boel reacted by suggesting that an ETS should be considered as a viable option for agriculture in the future, but also expressed concern over the regulatory burden it may place on the farming sector. Some Member States took the opportunity to showcase national measures illustrating other possible regulatory approaches. For example, Sweden, Slovenia and Finland stressed the role of forests in providing carbon sinks while Portugal highlighted their forthcoming national water tax as an option the EU might want to consider.

Links to Copenhagen

In the run up to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, the issue of agriculture and its role in helping to combat climate change was considered an inevitable feature of the discussions.

Mariann Fischer Boel confirmed that no legislative proposals are planned ahead of the Copenhagen conference.

While Mariann Fischer Boel confirmed that no legislative proposals are planned ahead of the Copenhagen conference, the message that agriculture will have to play its part in meeting the climate change challenge was the key outcome of the Informal Agriculture Council. Farmers will be expected to pull their weight with regards to climate change in the future, facilitated in the short term by the opportunities presented by additional funding made available for the ‘new challenge’ of climate change through increased rates of compulsory modulation as a result of the 2008 CAP Health Check.

However, it was made clear that action at the EU level needed to take place within a much broader response at the international level. Member States agreed that the climate change challenge is one that needs to be addressed by all, but continued to voice caution on the need to avoid decreasing the EU’s competitiveness on the international stage through the imposition of increased regulation.

References

  1. Press release IP/09/1333 (17/09/09) ‘Milk: Commission proposes further measures to help dairy sector in short, medium and long term’
  2. Press release (13/09/09) ‘Meet the chair: climate important issue for the future of agriculture’
  3. Agra Europe

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PUBLICATION DATE

29 Sep 2009

AUTHOR

IEEP

FURTHER INFORMATION

The Institute for European Environmental Policy coordinates CAP2020. It is an independent not for profit institute which undertakes research in a number of policy areas including agriculture and rural development.


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