- A new assessment by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) reveals a continued lack of ambition in the measures and targets for the agricultural sector across nine updated draft National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs).
- Member States should incorporate long-term strategies to effectively tackle agricultural GHG emissions, through properly quantified measures and well-designed policies addressing the direct sources of these emissions.
While agriculture is the leading cause of biodiversity loss in Europe and accounts for about 11% of EU-27 total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, little has been done to reduce the sectors’ impact. Bearing in mind the EU’s ambition to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, the updated NECPs are a crucial tool for Europe to transition to a net-zero emission union. Unfortunately, the suggested measures for the agricultural sector have consistently been the weakest part of NECPs, with emissions from fertilisers and livestock rearing left largely untouched, while emissions from agricultural land-use were not included in NECPs until now.
This report by the EEB, which has counted with the participation of the International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA), assesses the level of ambition in the measures and targets for the agriculture sector set in the drafts of the revised NECPs of Spain, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and Portugal. The aim is to provide initial insight into whether Member States have used this fundamental opportunity to accelerate climate action and develop robust policies, measures and plans which address agricultural emissions, in relation to livestock, fertiliser, manure management and drained peatlands.
Level of ambition in GHG emission reduction targets
The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Slovenia are the only assessed countries to identify a GHG target for the agricultural sector. The absence of any agricultural emission reduction targets in many countries’ plans is particularly concerning, and sheds light on systemic reluctance to effectively tackle this major source of GHGs.
Livestock and manure management
The livestock sector is responsible for 86% of European agricultural GHG emissions, 17% of the overall EU GHG emissions, and 52% of total EU methane emissions. However, despite the strategic importance of this sector, none of the assessed NECPs identify specific targets for the implementation of the measure concerned (e.g., for its uptake or related emissions reduction), nor a dedicated budget to be allocated for its delivery.
With regards to the Spanish NECP, although the high level of detail in describing manure management measures is welcome, the exclusive focus on a handful of end-of-pipe solutions without addressing the root problem of acute nutrient (and climate) pollution is inadequate.
The excessive use of nitrogen fertilisers has led to losses of nutrients from farmlands to the environment, creating an imbalance of nutrients, GHG emissions and a severe impact on natural ecosystems and human health. However, the assessment of the draft updated NECPs shows that few countries are taking serious action to address emissions from agricultural soils, with many introducing measures to promote techno-fixes and lacking clear benchmarks to ensure more efficient nutrient use.
In relation to the Spanish NECP, while the combination of efficiency and agronomic measures is welcome, “conservation agriculture” is loosely defined and should clarify which combination of practices will be promoted to ensure that they do not lead to greater N2O emissions.
Peatlands and wetlands
According to empirical studies, to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Europe must rewet one million hectares of peatlands annually. Nevertheless, only six out of the nine updated NECPs explicitly refer to the importance of implementing measures related to peatlands. Out of the six NECPs referring to the role of peatlands as both carbon sinks and potential sources of emissions, only three (the plans drafted by the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain) identify specific rewetting or restoration targets. Spain fixes a target of 50.000 hectares of wetlands to be restored by 2050.
In conclusion, Member States have not used the opportunity to revise their NECPs to introduce science-backed measures to tackle emissions from the agriculture sector. Although it should be paramount to cut livestock-related GHG emissions for the EU to meet its climate change mitigation obligations, none of the analysed Member States – except the Netherlands – are proposing measures to significantly reduce animal numbers. Measures tackling emissions from the excessive use of fertilisers are mostly focused on efficiency improvements and other technofixes, while high-quality measures promoting agroecological practices to restore soil fertility and reduce the dependency on fertilisers are painfully absent. Similarly, Member States’ updated draft NECPs overall fall short of the ambition needed to address emissions stemming from farming on drained peatlands.