2017: Time for a 2050 roadmap for European agriculture!  [PDF version]

By Céline Charveriat

The year is 2017, and as part of the discussions on the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), European governments are expected to approve new mitigation targets for the transportation, building and agriculture sectors. Consultations on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are about to begin. Europe must also start preparing for the UN climate change negotiations, including the 2018 global stocktake and the “invitation” to present a mid-century mitigation target in 2020. 

If we want to keep temperature increase below two-degrees, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the agriculture and land-using sectors must play a major role in climate mitigation. However, contrary to the European energy sector, which is well on its way towards a low-carbon transition, the agricultural sector is only getting started. Measures within Europe’s agriculture are few and mostly focus on adaptation strategies such as saving water, protecting livestock from excessive heat or crops from extreme weather. 

There is still a glaring lack of information, analysis and debate regarding mid-century, low-carbon and resilience targets and pathways for agriculture and the land use sectors.  When considering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, agriculture is still considered a footnote in the fight against climate change. Overall, it is the fifth largest contributor to EU non-CO2 GHG emissions (11.3%).[1] Furthermore, agriculture’s relative contribution to Europe’s overall carbon footprint is expected to rise over the next 30 years. 

Without a revolution in carbon sequestration techniques in the industry and transport sectors, achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will require significant carbon removal from the atmosphere via soils and forests. The world’s need for sequestering carbon could become a new threat or a major opportunity for farmers and landowners.

So far, targets for the agriculture sector[2] alone are few and incomplete, and to date, Member States have taken little action on climate mitigation in the agricultural sector.[3] It is not clear whether the few mitigation measures, such as Europe’s rural development programmes, are effective in reducing overall agricultural emissions. While current European Commission proposals within ESR are a good step forward, much more will need to be done to ensure we are in line with the mid-century goals included in the Paris agreement and with the 2030 agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Without a major transformation in the food system, the world will undoubtedly fail to protect biodiversity and provide health, food and water for a rising population. For instance, diet-related diseases are a leading cause of mortality worldwide, representing up to 15% of all deaths.[4] Antimicrobial resistance, partly due to agricultural practices, is also seen a major health crisis by the World Health Organisation (WHO).[5]

In Europe, the emergence of these challenges is happening at a time when farming communities are already hurting. Farmers, whose activities are particularly vulnerable to changing weather patterns, face increased risk and costs linked with global warming. Even under two degrees of warming, average yields in Europe are expected to decrease by 4%.[6] Structural difficulties, including a major demographic transition ahead, a trend for concentration of production and landownership and rising income disparity, will impact farmers’ capacity to accept, and cope with change. 

As part of the CAP reform process and in preparation for UNFCCC processes, developing a 2050 low carbon, resilience and SDGs’ compatible roadmap for Europe’s agriculture is paramount. To be effective, such a roadmap must involve the right stakeholders and ask the following five questions:

  • How much should agriculture contribute to Europe’s mitigation and adaptation targets and what are the possible trajectories and milestones to 2050?
  • How big is the current potential for mitigation (including removals) and adaptation in European agriculture? 
  • What impact will mitigation have on levels, location of activity, technology and profitability in the farming sector? 
  • How should farmers be incentivised and rewarded for climate mitigation and adaptation? 
  • What policies, investments and farming or supply chain practices need to be adopted, by when and by whom? 

IEEP looks forward to contributing to this debate, starting with its forthcoming report for the European Parliament, The consequences of Climate Change for EU agriculture. Follow-up to the COP21-UN Paris Climate Change Conference, which will be published in February.



[1] Please note that this figure only includes emissions covered under the Effort Sharing Directive (methane and nitrous oxide), not CO2 emissions or removals accounted for under Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

[2] When referring to the agriculture sectors we mean land managed through some form of agricultural activities, such as grazing, crop production, or other means.

[3] Most of the emission reductions from the agriculture sector over the past decades have been from reductions in livestock numbers in response to market drivers. However, more proactive efforts have been made on climate adaptation.

[4] WHO. Global health risks, 2015

[5] www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/publications/global-action-plan/en/

[6] IMPACT2C research project. 2015. http://impact2c.hzg.de/imperia/md/content/csc/projekte/impact2c_final.pdf