Original publication: February 2017
Authors: IEEP: Kaley Hart, Ben Allen, Clunie Keenleyside, Silvia Nanni, Anne Maréchal, Kamila Paquel, Martin Nesbit, Julia Ziemann
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2nGDjDU

Aim of the report

The aim of this report is to examine the significance of the commitments made to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement for the agricultural sector. It has two main objectives:

1. To set out the global context for EU climate action and how this has developed over time, with a specific emphasis on the way in which the EU agriculture sector has been treated and affected by climate policy up until COP21; and
2. To analyse and discuss the implications of COP21 and developments in EU climate policy for the agriculture sector, considering the role that the CAP can play in supporting climate action within the agriculture sector and providing thoughts on the future role of the CAP in this regard.


For the purpose of this study, emissions relating to the ‘agriculture sector’ are taken to encompass both CO2 and non-CO2 emissions, as distinct from the more limited category of agriculture emissions used within the current Effort Sharing Decision (i.e. only non-CO2). The analysis is focussed on the agriculture sector and therefore does not cover forestry sector emissions directly; although any indirect impact on the agricultural sector of mitigation policy in forestry is covered.

Background and context

The Earth’s climate has always undergone periodic changes that have affected the conditions available to life on the planet. Yet recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the highest in history and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Europe wide GHG emission levels have, however, decreased since 1990, although there has been a slowing in the rate of reduction in the last decade and there have even  been some increases in emission levels from agriculture in recent years.

Agriculture is one of the main sectors contributing to global GHG emissions, and is the fifth largest contributor to GHG emissions in the EU (11.3%; 514.1MtCO2e), after the energy, transport, industry, residential and commercial sectors. Agricultural GHG emissions arise largely from non-CO2 GHGs (nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4)), with only minor contributions from CO2. It contributes 10% of the total EU non-CO2 emissions with a high degree of variation between Member States. Agriculture can aid in the mitigation of climate through reducing GHG emissions from sectoral activities (e.g. increased efficiency), increasing removals through the absorption of carbon in soils and biomass (sequestration), and increasing the contribution the sector makes towards renewable energy production (e.g. biomass production or space for infrastructure).

With the reduction of GHG emissions in other sectors, the relative share and importance of delivering emission reductions in the agriculture sector will increase. Efforts to reduce agriculture GHG emissions will need to increase if the sector is to play a significant role in the EU’s emission reduction targets to 2030.

EU climate action and the role of the agricultural sector

The current operational framework tackling climate action at the EU level is the 2020 Climate and Energy Framework which addresses sectoral action to deliver on the EUs Kyoto Protocol commitments. Agricultural mitigation efforts for non-CO2 GHGs are covered under the EU’s Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) addressing sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS). The ESD includes specific binding targets on Member States to 2020 with flexibility on the potential contribution of agriculture as opposed to other ESD sectors (e.g. transport).

Agricultural CO2 emissions are largely addressed under the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Decision, relating to cropland and grazing land management, along with forestry. The LULUCF Decision does not currently count towards the EU’s 2020 climate mitigation targets under the Climate and Energy framework, and therefore does not include specific targets for emission reductions in the same way as the ESD. LULUCF sectors do however count towards the EU’s quantified emission limitation under the Kyoto Protocol, therefore still necessitating accounting and reporting from these sectors. For agriculture, the interplay between the ESD (net emissions) and LULUCF (net removals) sectors is important in establishing climate action in the sector.

The Paris Agreement established new ambition to climate mitigation efforts globally. In the EU this is enshrined in the EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework and associated targets (to reduce emissions by 40%) and coherent with the EU’s 2050 low carbon transition towards 80% emission reductions. New regulation is proposed under the 2030 framework that will supersede the ESD and LULUCF. The Commission proposal for an Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) will, if adopted in its current form, establish new, more stringent targets on emission reductions in the non-ETS sectors (including agriculture) and the proposal for LULUCF Regulation will, if adopted, include a no-debit rule, meaning the sector cannot emit more GHG emissions than it sequesters in a given year.

There is a high degree of proposed flexibility on how to meet the new ESR and LULUCF targets, with potential to allow offsetting of ESR emissions (e.g. from agriculture) by using removals in the LULUCF sector as well as in the sectors covered by the ETS.

At the Member State level, action on climate is closely related to the share of agriculture in total GHG emissions. The share of agriculture emissions is used to set targets for the ESD and both targets and level of flexibility available to Member States in the proposed ESR. This is based on the often-unchallenged premise that it is less efficient (i.e. more costly) to deliver mitigation effort in the agriculture as opposed to other sectors. Member State action on climate reinforces this assumption, with concerns expressed over  the impact of mitigation on food production and profitability of the agriculture sector as a whole. With livestock production contributing a significant proportion of the sectors emissions this raises additional questions on the demand side (about consumption patterns) and influence of behaviour outside of the sector on mitigation efforts.

Despite the clear need for action on climate in the agriculture sector, there is relatively little ambition evident as yet in Member States, particularly on mitigation. Action on climate adaptation is more prominent at the Member State level. Adaptation will be a critical priority as agriculture is the economic sector most uniquely susceptible to changes in climate patterns with the impacts highly place- and crop- specific. The main climate related pressures on agriculture are water availability, overall temperature variations, presence and persistence of pests and diseases, as well as fire risks. In the EU, climate related impacts on agriculture have largely been negative, with positive impacts limited to temperature increases in northern latitudes.



The report concludes that ambition appears to be lacking currently in terms of climate mitigation action within the agricultural sector, although more is being done is some countries on adaptation. As attention inevitably increases on the agricultural sector, as mitigation potential in other sectors is adopted, there is an urgent need for some long-term planning, especially as it is not clear from the evidence that the agriculture sector is on the right trajectory currently to deliver the scale of emission reductions required to achieve a net zero goal by 2050. The development of a 2050 low-carbon and resilience roadmap for European agriculture would be an important means of setting out a multi stage approach to climate action in the sector, avoiding a silo mentality by embedding public interventions through the CAP into a wider strategy to bring down emissions which involves the private sector and consumer concerns as well. Such a roadmap is required to feed into the facilitative dialogue required under the Paris Agreement in 2018, which involves parties considering their commitments in the light of the long-term goals. The EU will therefore need to think through the implications of the 2050 targets by 2018, in good time to feed into the negotiations for the next Multi-annual Financial Framework, and for agriculture to feed into the focus and subsequent negotiations on the post 2020 CAP.

Ensuring the right climate policy framework is in place to encourage longer-term action will be essential as will ensuring that a future CAP has the right incentives in place to support not just action on the ground but also capacity building and knowledge exchange. With  respect to the CAP, a more strategic approach to the use of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 instruments and measures is required in Member States to ensure a coherent approach to climate action is taken. Not all support will require public funding and private investment and greater use of financial instruments should also be considered. This agriculture specific measures will also have to be accompanied by  a strong regulatory baseline and additional tools such as those to incentivise waste reduction or to influence consumption patterns and hence the demand for climateintensive products.

Finally, the absence of clear targets for the agricultural sector is allowing Member States to put off the difficult decisions that must be made in relation to emission reductions and removals for the agricultural sector. The development of some form of targets for the sector at EU and/or Member State level therefore, could help provide an incentive for the agricultural sector to start planning now for the significant contributions that will have to be made to emissions reductions in the longer term.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/585-914

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