Proposed greening of the CAP: only small gains

22-02-2012 | News item

The impact of the proposed greening measures of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on the sustainable development of agriculture appears to be relatively small. Member States must assign 30 percent of their Pillar I budget to these measures, a total annual amount of 13 billion euros. Greening measures could be made more effective by tailoring the proposed ecological focus areas to local conditions and by promoting the formation of a green infrastructure.

Furthermore, the attribution of 5 percent to 10 percent of the total CAP budget to stimulating more sustainable animal husbandry systems may solve persistent issues in the intensive livestock production regarding environmental quality, and animal health and welfare. These are the main conclusions of the report by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, ´Greening the CAP: An analysis of the effects of the European Commission’s proposals for the Common Agricultural Policy 2014–2020´, which was released today.

Effect on biodiversity of proposed greening measures in Pillar I

The European Commission has proposed three measures that form a ‘greening’ component for direct payments (Pillar I) to farmers: ecological focus areas, crop diversification, and maintaining permanent grasslands. According to the EC proposal, farmers must designate 7 percent of their land as ecological focus areas. This may be land that is fallow, or that contains landscape features, or consists of buffer strips and afforested areas.

This study estimates that making 7 percent of farmland into ecological focus areas, on average, would increase species richness by 1 percent (while also reducing production). This biodiversity yield may be higher, depending on region and on how this measure is implemented. It is estimated that the other two greening measures (crop diversification and maintaining permanent grasslands) would hardly have an effect on biodiversity. In any case, the greening of Pillar I is expected to slow down but not halt farmland biodiversity loss. Halting farmland biodiversity loss is essential for meeting EU biodiversity targets. A well-designed greening component within the CAP could play a pivotal role in meeting these targets. Greening measures could be targeted, for example, to create green infrastructure.

Figure: map of Europe with the effects of greening measures of pillar I on relative species richness of agricultural land in 2020

Greening of the CAP unlikely to have much effect on greenhouse gas emissions

The greening measures combined may lead to an annual reduction of around 7 Mt CO2 eq, equalling 2% of EU agricultural emissions. It should be noted that impacts within the EU would be partly offset by the greenhouse gas emissions related to increased agricultural production outside the EU. The 2% annual reduction would mainly be the result of reduced fertiliser use and associated nitrous oxide emissions, following the introduction of ecological focus areas. The proposed measure concerning the conservation of permanent grassland is expected to have little effect on actual farming practices, as large-scale ploughing of these grasslands even in the present situation seems unlikely. Moreover, the measure would allow for some cultivation (5%). Therefore, it is expected that this measure will only marginally reduce emissions related to grassland conversion. The EC proposal focuses mostly on carbon dioxide emissions, whereas most of the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture consist of methane and nitrous oxide.

CAP reform pays little attention to livestock sector, while challenges are great

The livestock sector, more so than the crop sector, is associated with a range of persistent sustainability issues, such as animal health and welfare, public health risks due to the use of antibiotics, and the emission of nutrients and greenhouse gases. However, the European Commission’s proposals provide no incentive for substantial improvements in this sector. Attributing 5% to 10% of the total CAP budget to subsidise investments in improved animal housing systems and management practices could provide a strong impulse towards making the livestock sector more sustainable.

Proposal unlikely to change the effect of the CAP on developing countries

The proposed reform will hardly change the impact of the CAP on developing countries. Developing countries would profit most from a further reduction in market distortions and from cooperation in the development of CAP-supported innovations and technologies.