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Daily News Blog

13
Mar

European Commission’s Agricultural Policy Clashes with Its ‘Green Deal’ Plan

(Beyond Pesticides, March 13, 2020) The European Commission’s proposed (post-2020) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a failure and must be dramatically changed to embrace organic practices and support small farmers, according to a paper written by 21 scientists and published in the British Ecological Society’s journal, People and Nature. The authors point to provisions that permit anemic implementation of critical sustainability goals, and say that as it stands, the CAP fails “with respect to biodiversity, climate, soil, [and] land degradation as well as socio‐economic challenges.” The authors call on the European Parliament, Council, and Commission to adopt 10 urgent action points that advance a goal that “all CAP elements, without exception, should be aligned with the principles of sustainability, multi‐functionality and public payments for public goods.” The paper’s authors say that the CAP continues, in fact, to support practices that exacerbate the climate emergency, soil erosion, land degradation, and biodiversity loss, and fails to fund initiatives that could address climate and other critical issues.

Happening concurrently with the CAP is development of the European Commission’s (EC’s) “European Green Deal,” which the EC describes as a roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable, and making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The European Green Deal website further says: “This will happen by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all.” The European Commission (EC) recently announced ​plans to make the deal legally binding for all member states.

The sentiments of the paper — Action needed for the EU Common Agricultural Policy to address sustainability challenges — are endorsed by 3600 scientists from 63 countries, as reported by BirdLife International. Beyond Pesticides has pointed, for years, to the need for a shift to organic and regenerative agricultural practices that do achieve gains for soil health, climate mitigation, ecosystem health, and biodiversity. The rise in demand for organics is one sign of progress because organic agriculture is not only a solution to the global food crisis, but also, to the health and ecological risks of conventional, chemically intensive farming.

As reported by The New York Times, the planned overhaul of Europe’s farm policy and plan for 2021–2027, and its funding — to be negotiated during 2020 — is largely “business as usual” in new, “climate friendly” packaging, according to these critics, who say it does not do nearly enough to protect the environment or support small farmers. The plan receives particular scorn because: (1) farmers would continue to be paid subsidies on the basis of the acreage they cultivate, rather than for implementing environmentally sound practices (such as organic farming and agro-forestry), and (2) subsidies would continue to be paid for livestock farming, which worsens greenhouse gas emissions.

Birdlife.org writes: “The scientists express concern that national governments and the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament are diluting the environmental ambitions of the CAP ‘to defend the interests of a few at the expense of the many.’ At present, the main factor determining how much ‘income support’ a CAP recipient gets is the size of their farm: 80% of these payments goes to 20% of farmers. This means that farmers are stuck in a system where those with the most land receive most of the money — regardless of the environmental quality of their farming. A recent New York Times investigation has already exposed how the CAP serves narrow, national, oligarchical and agro-industry interests, even directly benefiting Czech Prime Minister, billionaire Andrej Babiš.” To boot, the authors charge that the CAP would continue to waste taxpayer funds on measures that are ineffective: “‘Billions of euros of taxpayers’ money are about to be poured down the drain,’ the scientists said in a statement.”

A 2019 New York Times article covered the contrast between Europe’s “green” reputation and the reality of its current farm policy, the ongoing damage from which includes dead zones in the Baltic Sea from agricultural runoff and increased farm emissions of greenhouse gases. In addition, the NYT has reported on the extensive corruption, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, in the system of agricultural subsidies, which comprise nearly 40% of Europe’s budget.

The chief concerns the paper cites about the CAP are that it would:

  • continue subsidies based on acreage, and with only “light green” (low-level) environmental requirements
  • reduce budgets for Rural Development Programs that include climate mitigation measures
  • involve some “greenwashing”: the EC represents that 40% of subsidies are “climate‐friendly,” but these payments “are not systematically linked to any effective measure for greenhouse gas reduction or climate adaptation”
  • posit a “green architecture” that has only vague requirements, and would allow farmers and member states to opt for insufficiently bold initiatives and practices
  • the evaluation metrics apply only to administrative and financial implementation of the CAP, and not to actual on-the-ground outcomes; the paper says: “‘impact’ indicators mostly describe farming structures rather than actual impacts. They are insufficient for an effective monitoring of the CAP objectives and instruments and provide little guidance for policy steering”
  • extends insurance provisions without tying them to any requirement for risk-mitigation actions

Finally, the authors contend, the proposed post-2020 CAP lacks consistency and transparency, and repeats the often-criticized restructuring and renaming of CAP elements in ways that impede learning and undermine transparency and legitimacy.

The authors of the subject paper, and its 3,600 supporters, comment: “The ‘European Green Deal,’ published by the European Commission in December 2019, presents a new framework for EU policy‐making with high ambition to align economic processes with planetary boundaries. It states an intention to present a ‘Farm to Fork Strategy on sustainable food.’ This may offer an important opportunity for the European Institutions to make evidence‐based decisions toward a future‐proof CAP. However, the Green Deal is vague with respect to the CAP.”

In light of the concerns about the CAP, the paper’s authors and supporters proffer 10 “action points” to address the inadequacies of the proposal. Some of those would:

  • transform subsidies into “payments for public goods” that would align environmental and socio‐environmental dimensions of sustainability
  • provide sufficient support for effective climate change mitigation
  • support measures to maintain ecosystems and biodiversity
  • promote innovative measures that reward positive environmental outcomes
  • revise evaluation procedures and metrics
  • strengthen environmental monitoring and enforcement
  • identify and address global impacts of the CAP (particularly in the vulnerable southern hemisphere)
  • improve governance of the CAP and its reform to enhance transparency and accountability, thereby regaining legitimacy and public trust

The paper’s summary statements include: “Sustainability is a top societal priority and an urgent challenge. It is enshrined as a goal in the Treaty of the European Union. Given the documented poor performance of the CAP with respect to sustainability, business as usual is no longer an option. Urgent and efficient actions are needed to ensure environmental and social sustainability and long‐term food security.”

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/world/europe/radical-changes-urged-for-huge-eu-farm-program.html and https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/pan3.10080

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