Agriculture ‘unevenly targeted’ in EU carbon crunch – commission official

Agriculture is “unevenly targeted” under Europe’s effort to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a senior official at the European Commission’s agriculture directorate has stated.

Speaking to AgriLand at a seminar on the future shape of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020 in the EU Commission in Brussels, Tassos Haniotis, director for strategy, simplification and policy analysis, acknowledged that the agri sector shoulders significant criticism from consumers.

To use the term unfairly probably comes on a little strong; I think agriculture is unevenly targeted.

“I will give an example, agriculture is 2% of the overall economy, it’s 40% of land use and 100% of food.

“As a sector that contributes roughly 10% to emissions, it is treated differently to the focus on that 2%, 40% and 100%.

“That 100% goes to consumers; but yet, it’s put into a different dimension in comparison to what is happening in transport or other areas,” said Haniostis.

In terms of the EU’s current record on carbon emissions, the official – who played a leading role in the development of the current CAP post-2020 reform proposals tabled by the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, last June – highlighted that the agricultural sector is particularly challenged.

According to official figures from the EU Commission on the performance of the CAP over the last two decades, GHG emissions from agriculture – including cropland and grassland – in the EU fell by 22.2% between 1990 and 2016.

However, on closer examination of the figures, it can be seen that most of the decrease occurred at the beginning of the period and recently it has been stagnating.

Compared to other sectors, the share of agricultural emissions is going up – as such, experts suggest that it is easier to decrease emissions in other sectors, than it is in agriculture.

It is clear that it is more difficult in agriculture to make the necessary adjustments than other sectors.

“In terms of emissions, emissions have gone down. But, the share of emissions have gone up because other sectors are doing things better.

“Yes, we have to do something in agriculture – but we have to demonstrate with concrete evidence what is possible and what it would take to achieve this,” he said.

Haniostis has held a number of posts at the EU Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, or DG AGRI, over the years – including deputy head of cabinet. He also holds multiple qualifications in economics and agricultural economics.

“When you make a proposal, what you have to take into account is whether the measures we have proposed addresses specific problems on the ground.

“Now, whatever happens in Europe (European Elections 2019 or growing nationalist unrest in some member states) the question we all have to ask ourselves – no matter what side of the political spectrum we stand or what passport we carry – are the problems of climate change, environment, income activity of farmers common or not and what is the best solution to do that.

“In my personal view, and that’s why I spent my career in the European Union where I had options to stay across the Atlantic for example, is that the strongest point of Europe is its unity that it respects its diversity.

“It’s not about focusing on the divisions, it’s about focusing on the positive elements that we have and I am a firm believer in that.

“I believe the more we try to explain the logic of our proposal the better it is going to be in helping its implementation,” he said.

‘Not Perfect’

The new CAP post-2020 reform proposals – which are currently being deliberated at European Parliament and European Council level – aim to simplify and modernise the CAP.

The CAP has been the  flagship policy of the EU over the years with its clear positives in terms of jobs growth, poverty reduction and relative income stability for the agricultural sector – with the main impact coming from the previous decoupling of the policy.

However, Haniostis is adamant that farmers must embrace the climate and environmental challenge.

Not everything is perfect and there are clear things that we can do better – especially in the environmental area – but, that doesn’t mean that the CAP has been a catastrophe. It’s very easy to throw slogans like that.

“There have been very positive developments on emissions from agriculture, on the reduction in the use of fertilisers and the improvement in soil.

“But compared to the challenges we have in the future, we are lagging behind,” he said.

Haniostis said the focus must be shifted to productivity growth, equity and safety net issues in a “changing environment”.

Three very important things have changed – the price level, the work rate environment and the new commitments from climate and environment under the sustainability development goals.

“Under the new proposals, for the first time, nine specific objectives have been defined that reflect what the commission wants to achieve in the policy whilst facing economic, social and environmental challenges,” he said.