New EU Roadmap for a Competitive Low Carbon Economy Calls Agriculture and Land Management to Action

On 8 March 2011, the Commission published a Communication entitled A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050 as a key deliverable under the so-called Europe 2020 Resource Efficiency Flagship. The Roadmap sets out the milestones to achieving 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (see attached PDF). It provides an overview of the pathways for key sectors, including agriculture and forestry, and indicates the percentage reductions from 1990 levels that would have to be achieved per sector by 2030 and 2050 respectively. For the agriculture sector specifically, the Commission’s analysis shows that by 2050 the sector could reduce non-CO2 emissions by between 42 and 49 per cent, compared to 1990.

By 2050 the sector could reduce non-CO2 emissions by between 42 and 49 per cent, compared to 1990.

The Commission expects the rate of emission reductions in the agricultural sector to slow down after 2030, in part due to increased agricultural production as a result of the growing global population. It also notes that by 2050 agriculture will represent one third of the total remaining EU emissions. The Commission therefore expects the agriculture sector to become increasingly important in climate policy terms, not only because it will become proportionally more significant, but also because if savings are not made in this sector, more expensive savings will need to be made elsewhere.

In the context of the ongoing work in the Commission on the CAP legislative proposals, this new Communication provides extra political leverage for the task of improving the integration of climate change mitigation actions with agricultural policy. The measures highlighted in the Roadmap include further sustainable efficiency gains, efficient fertiliser use, bio-gasification of organic manure, improved manure management, better fodder, improved livestock productivity and local diversification and commercialisation of production, as well as maximising the benefits of extensive farming. All of these measures are understood to have potential to reduce the non-CO2 emissions (chiefly nitrous oxide and methane) which are the quantitative milestones for the sector.

Importantly for agriculture and land use in Europe more broadly, the Communication also highlights the role of improved agricultural and forestry practices in increasing the capacity of the sector to preserve and sequester carbon in soils and forests. Examples are given of targeted carbon storage measures such as maintenance of grasslands, restoration of wetlands and peatlands, low- or zero-tillage, reduction of erosion and allowing the development of forests. Although these are paid specific attention, the quantitative milestones do not take into account their effect on carbon emissions of the sector.

It is a significant policy development for the proposed EU Roadmap to include land management practices more friendly to maintaining carbon in soils. Hitherto the mitigation potential of land and soil management has never been explicitly recognised in the CAP policy debate as having an important role to play in helping deliver on climate goals (although it has been part of the debate about the contribution of agriculture to mitigation globally, for example in the 2008 UNFCCC paper published in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit). Lack of attention so far to the importance of practices for soil carbon management has been, firstly, to do with the difficult issues of measurement, monitoring and availability of soil data. Secondly, it has been made much more difficult by the fact that the climate change mitigation potential of the agricultural sector is unfortunately parcelled out into several different categories under the UN and Kyoto reporting and accounting protocols, and thus translated into the EU climate policy. The category ‘agriculture’ comprises only N2O and CH4 emissions, while emissions from ‘cropland management’ and ‘grazing land management’ are accounted for only on a voluntary basis within the sector ‘land use and land use change’ (LULUCF) under the Kyoto protocol. It is therefore significant that the new Communication refers to the need to consider all land uses in a holistic manner and to address land use change and forestry in EU climate policy, specifically in the EU initiative on LULUCF that is expected to be launched later this year.

In the context of recent discussions about ‘sustainable intensification’, it should be noted that the Communication pays attention to the increasing competition for land from a range of uses, and highlights that the dual challenges of global food security and climate change need to be pursued together. In this context the Communication argues the case for continued and rapid ‘sustainable increases in productivity’ to be delivered by diverse agricultural and forestry systems (both intensive and extensive) in the EU and globally, and admits that any negative impacts on water soils and biodiversity will need careful management.

There is an apparent unresolved conflict in the Communication between the rhetorical stress on resilient ecosystems and the admission that, in relation to the contribution expected of biofuels in a low carbon economy, increased pressures are in store for biodiversity, water management and the environment generally. In this context the Communication stresses the importance of developing work on sustainability criteria and indirect land use change.

The political significance of the new Roadmap is underlined by the fact that it is a part of the Europe 2020 Resource Efficiency Flagship. This is translated in the text into an explicit commitment by the Commission, highly relevant for the ongoing work on the new CAP proposals, that in developing the next Multi-annual Financial Framework the Commission will examine the ways in which EU funding can support instruments and investments that are necessary to promote the transition to a low carbon economy.

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31 Mar 2011