How to improve the CAP’s environmental performance post 2020

We are pleased to welcome this guest post by Faustine Bas-Defossez, IEEP Head of agriculture and land management program, and Kaley Hart, IEEP Senior fellow, who summarise the findings of a recent IEEP report CAP 2021-27: Proposals for increasing its environmental and climate ambition.

Although the CAP is the key EU funding mechanism to support environmental and climate action in the EU agricultural and forest sectors, efforts so far to green this strategic policy have not been sufficient to outweigh the pressures facing the farmed environment. As the EU just published its long term strategy for a climate neutral economy, emissions of greenhouse gasses from agriculture, including the livestock sector, are stubbornly high. Furthermore farming itself depends heavily on healthy soils and water supplies, on pollinators in sufficient abundance and on well managed natural resources.

Yet paradoxically the environment usually has been relegated to a second order issue during the political wheeling and dealing that has preceded a succession of CAP reforms. When more robust environmental measures have been proposed, they are often exactly the elements to be watered down or sacrificed completely in the course of the political deals that underpin each new version of the CAP.

During the negotiations on the last version of the CAP, national governments and the European Parliament opened up so many means of avoiding an environmentally demanding version of greening that the core purpose of this proposal was nearly buried.

Given the alarming decline of biodiversity, the worrying state of water bodies in Europe and the poor quality of much of our soils, as well as the shrinking window of opportunity for engaging meaningful climate actions in Europe, it would be a major set-back if the same thing happened again this time. Indeed, the CAP should have one primary focus: supporting the transition towards sustainable farming in Europe.

The Commission’s proposed new delivery model, bringing more of a results based approach to CAP expenditure, is the interesting new idea this time. Delivered well, it could bring us a step closer to sustainable farming and deliver more coherent, creative and innovative approaches to a performance-based CAP. One that could meet the needs of farmers, citizens and the environment with capacity to adapt to local conditions.

However, the discouraging experience with the last reform is now in serious danger of being repeated. Last time, a set of relatively bold new proposals were converted into more of a business as usual approach, often in the name of flexibility for governments and farmers. The result was to undermine much of the environmental ambition and the policy tools to deliver it.

So far, the approach being taken by the co-legislators to the Commission’s current proposals is set for a similar pattern. They seem to be aiming to remove the good parts of the proposals and weaken further the ones that need strengthening.

But the game is certainly not over. As negotiations are still at an early stage it is worth highlighting the main changes that are needed to the proposals in order to create a CAP that delivers enhanced environmental and climate ambition in Member States. Here we pick out some of the main themes of the report that makes a case for 30 actions in all.

Key actions needed to improve the CAP’s environmental and climate performance

First and foremost the regulations must make sure that Member States use the flexibility provided to them to rethink the way support is tailored and targeted to their needs, including on the environment and climate. Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 support must be programmed together and work together coherently, avoiding perverse environmental and climate effects. Policy interventions aimed at farm level require support, guidance and capacity building and must effectively and transparently engage stakeholders in the process.

Second, sufficient funding should be allocated to environmental and climate interventions with a minimum percentage of the Pillar 1 envelope ring-fenced for environmental purposes to mirror the 30% requirement in Pillar 2. Alternatively, a minimum percentage could be set for environmental/climate purposes across the CAP as a whole.

Third, the CAP objectives should be articulated in more concrete, quantitative terms, linking them more clearly with those in EU legislation. The indicators identified to measure progress against these should be made more specific to enable the quality of the action taken to be determined more readily as well as the quantity.

Fourth, rigorous approval and review processes at EU level are essential so that Member States are accountable to EU taxpayers for addressing the priorities and needs in their countries. Criteria should be established to demonstrate how the Commission will assess whether Member States have genuinely increased the environmental and climate ambition of their mix of CAP support measures.

In addition, the Commission should be sure that environmentally valuable habitats that are used for agricultural purposes (e.g for. grazing) are not excluded from CAP support and that the ”genuine farmer” definition does not discriminate against any farmers and land managers who make a measurable contribution to achieving environmental objectives.

At any stage of the negotiations, it is worth remembering that without a strengthening of the Commission’s proposals, there is a risk that the status quo will prevail or worse that we step back from previous environmental achievements –letting down the sector itself as well as the environment.

This post was written by Faustine Bas-Defossez of IEEP.

Photo credit. Cumbria England flooding

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