February 3, 2010
Regarding ‘MEPs want farm policy to ease climate change‘:
The ambition to make the CAP more climate friendly is commendable. The EP draft report, presented by Stéphane Le Foll, has clearly recognised the challenge to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture and to increase carbon storage in the soil. However, one must not jump from observing the need for climate action to the conclusion that more subsidies are needed.
A first step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture would be to remove farmers’ tax exemptions for fuel.
Second, taxes on fertiliser or nitrogen should be applied throughout the EU at a level in line with the external costs of farms’ excess nitrogen. The nitrogen that is not transformed into biomass turns into nitrous oxides that are a powerful greenhouse gas (or it is washed into water courses or trickles down into the groundwater).
Third, regulation of farming practices could be tightened. For instance, farmers could be obliged to observe stricter standards in their handling of manure, which produces methane, another potent greenhouse gas.
Finally, a desirable long-term solution is to introduce emissions trading to agriculture. There is some debate about the feasibility of measuring the greenhouse gas balance at farm level, but with sufficient investment these technical problems can likely be overcome. New Zealand has already embarked on an emission trading scheme for farmers.
This is not to reject the idea that the fight against climate change should be at the heart of the CAP. Subsidies may indeed be necessary where considerations of fairness or competitive pressures from abroad speak against stricter application of taxes, regulation and emissions trading. But the first reflex must not be to throw more money at climate change and farmers. We are currently far away from upholding the ‘polluter pays’ principle in agriculture. Conforming to this principle as far as possible is a matter of fairness, as other sectors are obliged to reduce emissions at their own cost.
Research Associate, European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE)
Editor, www.reformthecap.euAuthor : Letters to the EurActiv editor