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Climate

What old-style CAP defenders claim

Agriculture is often positively depicted as part of the solution to fighting climate change, justifying additional subsidies. Agriculture should not be seen as part of the problem, and taxes and emission trading should be avoided. Otherwise, agricultural production would be relocated, to countries like Brazil, and more rainforests would be cleared, thereby exacerbating climate change.

Direct emissions of agriculture

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reports that agriculture is responsible for 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2007. Nitrous oxides (N2O) from soils – deriving primarily from the application of mineral fertilizer and manure – are responsible for 49% of these emissions. Another 31% stems from methane (CH4) produced by enteric fermentation, mostly in cattle. 19% of GHG emissions (in the form of both nitrous oxides and methane) are the product of manure management. Paddy fields (for rice production) account for the final percentage of emissions.

Indirect emissions of agriculture

Agriculture also creates emissions through farm energy consumption and the production of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticides. These emissions are attributed to energy and industry but are in effect caused by agriculture.

Reduced carbon storage through land use

In addition, agriculture reduces the absorption of CO2 through the land surface. Forests and grasslands capture carbon in trees and soil matter. By contrast, cropland tends to be a source of carbon: harvesting, plowing and other interventions diminish the carbon stored in soils. Agriculture is not only a source of GHG emissions in itself, but also weakens the ability of the land surface to compensate for emissions from energy, industry and transportation.

Climate-friendly agriculture

Making agriculture more climate friendly is therefore of utmost importance. Recommendations for climate-friendly farming include: use of cover crops, adjustment of fertilizer application to crop needs, reduction of tillage, prevention of methane emissions from manure heaps and tanks, and utilization of biogas as a resource. Most of these techniques have positive side effects on other public goods, most notably on water and air quality, and the prevention of soil erosion. In many cases, they are even economically advantageous for farmers - for instance through improvements in soil fertility and diminished fertilizer costs.

Conclusions

The current CAP invests very little in promoting sustainable farming (see environment). Subsidies for climate-friendly farming should be significantly increased. A complementary approach is to improve farm advisory systems in order to make farmers aware of their economic interest in climate-friendly farming techniques, and to assist them with the transition. Finally, the EU should ramp up its investments into research and development for sustainable farming.
The best solution for inducing farmers to convert to climate-friendly sustainable farming in the long run is to tax GHG emissions, or to include them in an emission trading scheme. Such a scheme is being introduced in New Zealand . In 2012, farmers will have to report their emissions, and they will have to start paying for them in 2013. Initially, farmers will be granted 90 percent of the sector's total 2005 emissions for free, only paying the full price for their emissions in 2030.