Climate measures in agriculture

The need and opportunities to accelerate the reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been underlined in a number of recent reports (see, for example, the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (2018) or the IEEP report Net-Zero Agriculture in 2050: How to Get There (2019)). Following a period from 1990 to 2012 with a steady decrease in EU agricultural emissions amounting to 22% in total, these emissions have begun to increase since then, growing by 4% over the 2012-2017 period.

In this post, I examine the projected trend in agricultural emissions to 2030, drawing on the most recent European Environment Agency (EEA) report on Trends and Projections in Europe 2019 as well as the inventory of policies and measures that Member States have taken or plan to take to reduce these emissions in future.

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Coronavirus uncertainty as CAP decisions are postponed

There is increasing focus on how the coronavirus pandemic is likely to affect agricultural markets, food supply chains and farm incomes (for example, the series of IFPRI Resources and Analyses on COVID-19). Panic buying of long-life staples – as well as toilet roll, of course – led to temporary shortages on supermarket shelves but supplies were very quickly replenished.

In the medium-term, there are concerns that labour shortages, logistical difficulties in transporting goods across borders and falling export demand have the potential to cause disruption. The various actors in the European food chain issued a statement on 19 March calling attention to likely operational difficulties and asking the Commission to ensure that free movement of goods within the single market can continue, including through managing ‘green lanes’ at borders, to allow the food chain to function effectively.

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The Commission’s Climate Law proposal: what it says and how it might be improved

On 4 March 2020 the Commission published its draft Climate Law, formally a Regulation to establish the framework for achieving climate neutrality. This legislation had been flagged in incoming Commission President von der Leyen’s Political Guidelines published prior to the ratification of her nomination by the European Parliament.

It was confirmed in the Commission’s Communication on the European Green Deal in December 2019 with the stated aims to set out clearly the conditions for an effective and fair transition, to provide predictability for investors, and to ensure that the transition is irreversible. It would also ensure that all EU policies contribute to the climate neutrality objective and that all sectors play their part.

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The protective effect of EU agricultural tariffs

The 2019 EU Trade Policy Review was recently published by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The trade policy review process takes place every two years for major economies and is an important transparency tool. The country under review produces a policy report summarising major trade policy developments since the last review. A second report is written independently by the WTO Secretariat. These reports are then discussed by the full membership in the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Body. Indeed, the EU received more than 1,600 written questions from other WTO members on these reports to which it has provided written answers (unfortunately, the latter files are restricted and not publicly available on the WTO website).

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President Michel’s solution to the MFF conundrum

In my previous post I discussed the challenges facing European Council President Charles Michel as he took over responsibility from the Finnish Presidency to prepare the draft conclusions on the Multi-annual Financial Framework for the coming meeting of the European Council on 20 February next.

The Finnish Presidency proposal had been attacked on all sides as unsatisfactory. Yet, in that previous post, I speculated that Mr Michel was unlikely to hear anything very different to what the Finnish Presidency had heard when charged with forwarding the ‘negotiating box with figures’ to the December 2019 meeting of the European Council.

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Charles Michel’s MFF juggling act

During the past few weeks, the President of the European Council Charles Michel has been meeting national sherpas to sound out Member State positions regarding the Commission’s proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027. In the next few weeks he will be meeting national leaders face-to-face.

He has called a special European Council meeting which, ominously for national leaders who value their beauty sleep, is scheduled to start on 20 February but which notably has no termination date or time.  Mr Michel may plan to take a leaf out of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s playbook who famously kept the rich elite of Saudi Arabia under lock and key in a luxury hotel until they agreed to part with some of their money.

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Climate mainstreaming the CAP in the EU budget: fact or fiction

Climate mainstreaming of the EU budget was introduced in the Commission’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) proposal for the period 2014-2020 which first put forward the idea that “the optimal achievement of objectives in some policy areas – including climate action, environment, consumer policy, health and fundamental rights – depends on the mainstreaming of priorities into a range of instruments in other policy areas” (COM(2011)500). The Commission advocated in particular that the EU budget could play an important role in catalysing the specific investments needed to meet the EU’s climate targets and to ensure climate resilience.

The policy fiche on climate action in the Annex to the 2011 MFF proposal included the idea that the proportion of EU budget spending contributing to the EU’s transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society should be increased to at least 20%, subject to impact assessment evidence.

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Agriculture in the European Green Deal

The Commission published its Communication on the European Green Deal in mid-December 2019. Previously flagged in Commission President von der Leyen’s Political Guidelines for the new Commission, it defines the key political objectives of the new Commission for the next five years.

The headline commitment is to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 (while conflating the EU with Europe may seem like over-reach by the Commission, it should be remembered that other European countries, most recently Switzerland, either participate in or are linked to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the UK government’s preference is that it will remain associated after Brexit).

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Role of the land sector in meeting EU’s climate targets

The EU has signed up to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. Among these are Goal 13 to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and Goal 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

The incoming Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen set out in her Political Guidelines for the new Commission her ambition that the EU should raise its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) in 2030 from 40% to 50% immediately and to 55% in the first half of the next decade compared to 1990.

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Eurostat publishes preliminary 2019 farm output and income data

Eurostat has now published preliminary estimates of 2019 agricultural output and income. The value of agricultural output in current prices shows a small further increase in 2019 as compared to 2018. Compared to the previous peak in 2013, agricultural output value has grown by just under 4% in the past six years. This is mainly due to an increase in the value of crop output, with the increase in the value of livestock output lagging behind. However, because of greater spending on intermediate consumption, gross value added in agriculture remains just below the record 2017 level.

Operating surplus (the return to land, capital and family labour) also increased compared to 2018 but is still well below the record 2017 level.

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