Just ten days after taking office, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, unveiled her greatly anticipated European Green Deal with the goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent, stating that “this is Europe’s man on the moon moment.”
This deal reflects the European Union’s commitment to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change by taking action to limit global warming levels. Additionally, the policy reflects the growing importance of climate change for European industries, trade and politics.
Achieving climate neutrality, while ensuring growth, investment and a “just transition for workers”, is the overarching objective of the deal and will be protected by a ‘Climate Law’ that will be presented in 2020. Achieving climate neutrality is, according to president von der Leyen, the ‘greatest challenge and opportunity of our times.”
Although the UK may be leaving the EU soon, the strategy will still be of relevance for UK farmers as it will drive the direction of travel for our closest neighbours and trading partners, and sets out rules on standards of imports, which will be important for the UK to follow going forward as the EU is our biggest export market for agricultural goods.
As well as the 2050 climate neutrality target there are a few main points in the Commission’s plan that are very relevant to UK farmers. This includes, a new Farm to Fork strategy to be launched in spring 2020 that will aim for a “green and healthier agriculture” system for sustainable food consumption and will strive to promote affordable, healthy food for all. The strategy will also contain proposals that aim to improve the position of farmers in the value chain. In the roadmap on the Green Deal, the Commission recognises that European farmers are vital in managing the transition and it is hoped that the strategy will “strengthen their efforts to tackle climate change, protect the environment and preserve biodiversity.” The Common Agricultural Policy is therefore viewed as a crucial tool in supporting farmers efforts and ensuring that farmers have a decent living.
The new CAP is likely to be delayed until 2022, so the Commission plans to work with member states and stakeholders to ensure that plans for CAP implementation at national level are fully in line with the ambition of the Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy. This includes meeting the robust climate and environmental criteria and the inclusion of strategies to reduce chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics, implement stricter animal welfare standards and encourage practices such as organic farming.
However, there are concerns that policies will attempt to reduce pesticide use without any assistance or alternatives. This was echoed by Copa, the European farmers’ organisation, in which they asked how farmers are to be expected to “significantly reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers” without credible alternatives.
At the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on 12th and 13th December, all member states but one backed the Commission’s climate neutrality target. Poland, whose economy is heavily dependent on coal and believe more time is needed for them to implement the target, refused to support the objective. The topic will again be discussed at the June 2020 council meeting, where it is hoped that an agreement can be reached by all EU member states.