The European Union’s agriculture policy is “not viable” because it fails to protect the environment, warns a new report.
Current reform proposals of the EU Commission on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are “unlikely” to improve environmental protection, say scientists.
They warned that while the EU has committed to greater sustainability, that is not actually reflected in the CAP reform proposal.
And the researchers, who analysed the proposal for the CAP post-2020, concluded that it actually represents a “clear step backwards” compared with the current one.
The team behind the report showed how the ongoing reform process could still accommodate conclusive scientific findings and public demand to address environmental issues such as climate change.
Agricultural areas cover 174 million hectares, or 40 per cent, of the EU.
Land use intensification, primarily by agriculture, has been identified as the main cause of biodiversity loss, with risk to human well-being resulting from losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The European Union has committed in various international agreements to shift toward sustainable agriculture, the protection of biodiversity, and battling climate change.
With around 40 per cent of the total budget, the CAP is one of the most important policy areas for implementing international commitments.
But Dr Guy Pe’er, of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), said: “The proposal made by the European Commission for the CAP post-2020, published in June 2018, demonstrates very little of this intention.”
He said the propsoed reforms aren’t compatible with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Ecologist De Pe’er added: “Taking sustainability and the SDGs seriously requires a deep reflection on agricultural policy, its budgets and instruments, and developing good indicators for measuring success.
“Beyond words, we found little of that.”
He said the CAP has the potential to support at least nine of the UN’s 17 SDGs, but currently it only contributes to achieving two of them.
The researchers also criticised the EU for wanting to maintain some of the CAP instruments that have been proven to be “inefficient” and “harmful” to the environment and “socially unfair”.
They said a key example are Direct Payments under the so-called Pillar 1 of the CAP. Around 40 billion euros – about 70 per cent of the CAP budget – are paid to farmers on the basis of the cultivated area alone.
Currently, 1.8 per cent of recipients get 32 per cent of the money.
Agricultural economist Dr Sebastian Lakner, of the University of Göttingen in Germany, said: “These compensatory payments, provisionally introduced in 1992 as an interim solution, are lacking a sound scientific justification.”.
He said their analysis suggests that Direct Payments “contribute very little” both to environmental or social goals.
The EU commission states that 40 per cent of the CAP shall be labelled as ‘climate-friendly’.
But the researchers questioned that figure.
And while agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are currently rising rather than declining, they said the Commission offers no suitable specific instruments to address climate change.
The researchers believe the key reason for the environmental shortfalls lies in an “unbalanced” reform process which allows powerful lobby organisations “far-reaching opportunities” to influence the reform.
Dr Pe’er said: “The EU obviously lacks the will to meet public demand for sustainable agriculture and to implement the global environmental and development goals it had a share in adopting.
“Lobby interests have clearly outweighed both ample evidence and public interests.”
He added: “There is sufficient scientific evidence on what works and what doesn’t, especially with respect to the environment.
Dr Lakner said: “It should be in the core interest of the EU Commission to use tax payers’ money more efficiently to support societal objectives such as the maintenance of biodiversity or in general sustainable agriculture.”
The scientists believe that a genuine reform process, which involves all relevant stakeholders and takes scientific findings seriously, can help rebuild public support and acceptance of the CAP.
The final round of CAP negotiations between the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament is expected to begin in the autumn.