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Proposed greening of the CAP: only small gains according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

PBL, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, has published a new report arguing that 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. It argues that 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.

Key points from the study are as follows:

Effects on biodiversity
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% but also reduce production (NB – this is important as this may have  indirect land use change effects in other parts of the world).  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.

Effects 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 and better for animal welfare.

You can download the report below or the report and associated press release here.

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