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Agriculture Can Help Slow Climate Change

by 5m Editor
28 January 2010, at 8:43am

EU - Agriculture can help to slow climate change, but should be ready to adapt to the impact of global warming, said Agriculture Committee MEPs and scientists at a public hearing yesterday (27 January).

"Agriculture can provide solutions for the future", given its direct relationship with the earth and living things, said Parliament's rapporteur report on agriculture and climate change Stephan Le Foll (S&D, FR). A new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is therefore needed to take account of the impact of global warming and to mitigate climate change. "A new CAP", as "manager of the bio-sphere", would guarantee the transition to a new model of production and "ecologically, economically and socially efficient agriculture", he added.

The future CAP can help mitigate global warming mitigation in three ways: limiting its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, promoting carbon storage in the soil and producing sustainable and renewable energies, says Mr Le Foll's draft report. Wednesday's hearing contributed to discussion of this report, which is to be put to a committee vote on 17 March.

Carbon capture

"Conservation agriculture" is the way to reconcile farming and the environment, said US Department of Agriculture scientist Donald Reicosky. He explained that soil carbon sequestration can offer several opportunities to improve the ecosystem. Carbon in the soil increases water holding capacity and reduces erosion, but it can also reduce air pollution, fertiliser inputs and capacity to handle waste materials. To this end, "limiting soil disturbance and improving the cropping system" are the first steps to take, said Mr Reicosky in reply to questions by Mairead McGuinness (EPP, IE), George Lyon (ALDE, UK) and Luis Capoulas Santos (S&D, PT).

What role for the CAP?

The CAP should "focus on maintaining agricultural traditions and the policy should be kept as strong as it has been in the past", said Esther Herranz Garcia (EPP, ES). Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA, DE) instead stressed the need to give more support to rural development projects, the so-called "second pillar" of the CAP.

"Across Europe, forestry and agri-environmental measures within the second pillar of the CAP are already making a substantial contribution to climate change mitigation, said Rob Cooke, Director of Natural England, a UK government advisory body. Although these measures are not the main tool for reducing GHG emissions or boosting renewable energy production, "the carbon savings that they deliver come with an assurance that they have been achieved in a way (...) that is consistent with principles of sustainability", he said.

José Bové (Greens/EFA, FR) said the CAP economic model had failed to help the sector. "We need to change the model" and deliver "a new CAP able to turn its back on 30 years of mistakes", he concluded.

Are future scenarios too catastrophic?

John Agnew (EFD, UK), questioned the reliability of future scenarios based on available scientific data. Albert Dess (EPP, DE) agreed and stressed that "there is little accountability for false predictions". Frank O'Mara, research director at Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, replied: "I am not qualified to answer, but I think that progress is possible if we involve everybody to find the right solutions".

Adapting to climate change: costs unclear?

"Adaptation and mitigation are linked and complementary strategies", said Jan Verhagen, agrosystems researcher at Wageningen University, adding that "integrating climate change in agricultural plans and policies is the way forward". Nevertheless, he stressed, adaptation and mitigation costs are "still unclear". For an agriculture able to "look after the earth, a combination of old and new methods" is the best solution, said Marit Paulsen (ALDE, SE).

Impact of climate change: how to deal with it?

The impact of climate change on agriculture could result in water shortages and drought, new diseases, heat stress for animals and risks liked to extreme weather events, said Maciej Jerzy Sadowski, from the Expert Advisory Group, "Global Change" EU research programme. Increasing the resilience of farming systems, improving water management and reserving lands for future production are key factors for a long-term policy response, he said.

Mairead McGuinness (EPP, IE) noted that, despite differences on the urgency of tackling climate change, all agreed that "the real issue is better resource management".