Environment and climate issues should remain high on the agenda for the CAP post 2020

The results of the Commission’s recent public consultation on the future of the CAP have reinforced the message that the CAP must do more to deliver for the environment and climate. This was one of the top three challenges highlighted as most important for the EU and rural areas (41% of all responses), with the CAP's rural development policy identified as the policy approach most suited to addressing this.

From February to May 2017, the European Commission held a public consultation on modernising and simplifying the common agricultural policy (CAP). Open to all interested EU organisations and citizens, it asked a series of questions about principles and priorities for the future CAP to inform a Commission Communication on the CAP post 2020, due in spring 2018.

The summary findings were presented at the ‘CAP: Have Your Say’ conference in Brussels on 7 July. The consultation received almost 323,000 responses in total, of which 80% were part of the environmental NGO led ‘Living Land’ campaign. These campaign responses were analysed separately. Once duplicates, including results from other campaigns, had been removed, 58,520 replies remained, of which around 55% were from Germany.

What is interesting to see is that, even with the Living Land campaign responses removed from the analysis, environmental and climate issues still feature strongly as important objectives for any future CAP. Overall, ‘protecting the environment and landscapes’ came out as the second most important contribution of farmers to society (22% of respondents), after ‘supplying healthy, safe and diversified products’ (27%).

In terms of the most important environmental challenges faced by agriculture, the protection of biodiversity was the one most frequently selected by all categories of respondents (21% of responses). Reduction of soil degradation and more sustainable use of pesticides and fertilisers were ranked in second and third place (19% and 18% respectively). Other key challenges identified by over 10% of respondents were the preservation of genetic diversity (16%), reduction of water pollution (12%) and rationalised use of water (10%). The balance of priorities between different types of respondents was fairly similar. However, when asked whether the CAP was doing enough to address these challenges, the overwhelming response (over 58%) from all categories of respondents was ‘no’ (farming and non-farming alike). In terms of the barriers identified to achieving environmental objectives, the lack of attention placed on sustainability was highlighted frequently as were the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers, a perceived lack of support for organic farming and difficulties faced by small farms.

In terms of which objective should be most important for the CAP in the future, ‘contributing to a high level of environmental protection across the EU’ and ‘mitigating and adapting to the impact of climate change’ both came through strongly (13% and 9% of all responses), after ‘ensuring a fair standard of living for farmers and ‘encouraging the supply of healthy and quality products’ (both 18%). In particular, organic farming as well as soil, water and climate change issues were highlighted as meriting further attention under a future CAP, with a reasonably even distribution of responses between different stakeholders.

When faced with a list of environmental objectives and asked on which of these the CAP should do more, the options most frequently selected differed, according to the type of respondents. However, overall the responses were ranked as follows: prevention of biodiversity loss (24%), prevention and reduction of water pollution (23%), avoiding soil salinization, compaction and desertification (15%), prevention and reduction of soil erosion and the sustainable use of water (both 14%). The prevention of environmental risks such as floods and contribution to air quality plans both received less than 10% of responses.

A similar set of objectives were provided in relation to climate change. Again the rankings differed by type of respondents, but overall the breakdown between the various objectives was fairly similar, with the top four objectives being: providing sustainable renewable energy resources (17%), promoting afforestation and sustainable forest management (16%), reducing GHG emissions in the agricultural sector (15%) and improving climate change adaptation and enhancing the resilience of agriculture production systems (14%).

Overall, 77% of respondents agreed with the statement that ‘agricultural policy should deliver more benefits for environment and climate change’ (55% largely agreed and 22% partially agreed). This compares with 66% agreeing that ‘farmers need direct income support’ (37% largely agreed, 29% partially agreed). However, 96% of respondents agreed that ‘improving farmers’ position in value chains’ was important and 81% agreed that ‘targeted investments to foster restructuring and innovation should be supported).

These results of the public consultation clearly demonstrate the important role the CAP is seen as playing and must continue to play with regard to maintaining and enhancing the environment in rural areas generally and on agricultural land specifically. Biodiversity, soils and water are particularly highlighted. Importantly this is a view held by stakeholders and citizens across the spectrum of interests, including many farmers themselves. Climate issues are also flagged as an area where the CAP should do more in the future, although views differ on where the focus of policy intervention should lie.

The challenge now for the Commission is to develop proposals for a modernised and, in some sense, simplified CAP for the post 2020 era that champions these environmental and climate objectives as part of a package of measures for promoting an economically robust and sustainable agricultural sector for the future. In principle, a communication is due from the Commission in the coming months and the consultation results provide a natural starting point.

Further information: Outcome of the public consultation “Modernising and simplifying the CAP” Summary of the results of the public consultation "Modernising and Simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy" (document – 320pp) Highlights from the public consultation "Modernising and Simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy" Preliminary factual results of the consultation

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01 Sep 2017


Kaley Hart, David Baldock