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Agriculture and rural development
News article1 June 2021Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development

Evaluation of CAP’s impact on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions

EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture fell by more than 20% since 1990, but have stagnated since 2010. Still, as agricultural production has continued to grow, the climate footprint per unit of output continued to improve. Nevertheless, a further reduction of emissions is needed to achieve the EU’s ambitious climate targets for 2030 (reaching at least a reduction of 55% of emissions by 2030 in the EU).

The CAP has helped reduce GHG emissions. Mitigation is mainly achieved by protecting existing carbon stocks, notably thanks to the maintenance of permanent grasslands supported by extensive livestock grazing systems. There is potential to further increase carbon storage in EU soils. In terms of climate adaptation, it is mainly achieved through support towards diversity of crops and farming systems, investment support for adaptation to new climate conditions, limiting soil erosion and improving resilience to floods. However, better targeting of CAP support would lead to an increase in efficiency.

These are among the main findings of the evaluation of the impact of the CAP on climate change and GHG emissions.

The evaluation also finds that the reduction of emissions from managed agricultural soils is better addressed in the CAP than the reduction in livestock emissions, mainly due to the nature of CAP payments and support. Nevertheless, livestock farmers also play a key role in managing large areas of land, which are (or have the potential to be) carbon sinks (especially when managing large areas of permanent grassland and rough grazing). Rural development supports emission reduction in the livestock sector through various measures, such as certain agri-environmental commitments with respect to feed or manure management or investments into physical assets with respect to manure storage, animal housing or installation of anaerobic digesters. The voluntary coupled support in livestock sector has the potential to favour systems, which are economically vulnerable and important for resilience of the territory. However, they can potentially have negative impacts, when climate impact and territorial adaptation needs are not appropriately considered in the design of the scheme.

The main contribution from arable systems comes through improved land management, supported mainly through agri-environment-climate commitments and organic farming measures; as well as nitrogen-fixing crops, such as alfalfa and soybeans, supported notably with greening and coupled support. However, the CAP has achieved fewer emissions reductions on intensive grassland or arable farms. Support for areas facing natural constraints helps with preventing land abandonment and loss of grassland, but the positive impact on climate mitigation (e.g. by protecting carbon stocks in soils) is not guaranteed, as it depends on farmers’ practices on the land. Land management measures addressing mitigation usually also contribute to climate adaptation. However, overall, Member States have not tailored the CAP sufficiently to adaptation purposes (e.g. cross-compliance), so its potential is not fully used. More can be done to spread knowledge and advice farmers on techniques and practices to improve climate performance.

The evaluation also highlighted the role of screening for ‘maladaptation’ that could avoid public expenditure on infrastructure or sectors that may increase vulnerability in the medium to long term, such as inefficient irrigation infrastructures in areas with depleted water resources, or by promoting excessive specialisation of whole geographical areas. The evaluation finds that CAP measures are coherent in terms of climate action, but certain elements of the broad CAP design (e.g. exemption of beneficiaries of the small farmers’ scheme from greening, voluntary coupled support) are not fully coherent with climate objectives. However, the CAP’s climate-focused measures are coherent with other EU policies addressing climate change.

Related links

Evaluation of the impact of the CAP on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions

Future CAP

Sustainable agriculture

The CAP and climate change