‘Significant untapped potential’ to reduce farming’s climate impact

May 17, 2017

The widely-held assumption that little can be done to lower agriculture's climate emissions is being challenged by a new independent study. As MEPs debate expanding the use of controversial forestry credits and other loopholes to help sectors such as agriculture and transport meet their climate targets, the Institute for European Environmental Policy says there is significant untapped potential to reduce farming’s impact.

The report, commissioned by T&E, also found no evidence that reducing emissions in agriculture is more difficult or less cost effective than in other sectors. Legislators are under pressure to widen loopholes for the farming sector in the proposed Effort Sharing Regulation which will set down how much each EU country will have to reduce its emissions by in 2030. It will cover the transport, buildings, agriculture, small industry and waste sectors. Discussions are now ongoing in the European Parliament and the Council. The vote in the parliament’s environment committee is expected on 30 May, and the Council is expected to have a first position on 19 June.

T&E said the ESR should set targets for member states without allowing some to abuse forestry credits, start from a misleading baseline, or exploit the emission trading system’s (ETS) huge surplus. The loopholes, which are on the table at the behest of big agri lobbyists, would also weaken climate ambition in transport and the other ESR sectors.

Agricultural lobbyists want to have some or all of farming’s climate targets met by forestry credits (called LULUCF), which could mean no actual reductions in emissions are required, not only in the agriculture sector but also in other ESR sectors, such as transport. This would put at risk the EU’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. But the study says cover and catch crops (such as millet, pictured) – to manage soil quality – and crop rotation can be used to slash farm emissions in Europe.

T&E’s transport and energy analyst, Carlos Calvo Ambel, said: ‘There is a myth that agriculture cannot reduce emissions. Agri lobbyists are using that myth to undermine Europe’s 2030 climate law which would also lead to less ambition on reducing transport emissions. This report shows there is no reason why agriculture should be given a free ride. The EU is supporting European agriculture with billions in taxpayers’ money. Surely, it could use that money to help farmers pull their weight in the climate fight.’

Agriculture is responsible for 17% of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe’s non-ETS sectors. Similar studies on the transport and buildings sectors showed the 2030 targets could be met while achieving significant economic benefits. For transport, improved vehicle efficiency and electrification will be key to meeting the EU’s 2030 goals.

Calvo Ambel concluded: ‘We already know that emission cuts in transport and buildings are possible and create huge benefits in terms of lower oil imports and reduced fuel bills. This study confirms the same potential exists for agriculture. There is no reason why the EU’s 2030 climate targets should be weakened.’

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