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Image credits: Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash, 2016

Climate change has complex effects on the biophysical processes that underpin agricultural systems, with both negative and positive consequences in different EU regions. Rising atmospheric CO2 concentration, higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns and in frequency of extreme events are already influencing crop yields and livestock productivity in Europe, as well as the availability of water needed for irrigation, livestock watering practices, processing of agricultural products, and transport and storage conditions (EEA Report No 4/2019 Climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector in Europe). According to the EEA Report No 4/2019, climate change is projected to reduce crop productivity especially in southern Europe and to improve the conditions for growing crops in northern Europe, although the negative impact of extreme events on agriculture is expected to increase. . Farmers have to adapt to challenges stemming from climate change, and have to pursue mitigation and adaptation actions.

The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) for 2014-2020 focuses on competitiveness and sustainability in response to the economic, environmental and territorial challenges facing the sector. Sustainable management of natural resources and climate action represent one of the three main objectives of the CAP.

Policy framework

The CAP 2014-2020 consists of two pillars: Direct Payments and Market-related expenditure (Pillar 1) and Rural Development (Pillar 2). The inter-pillar flexibility has been enhanced and a number of instruments has been offered to find adequate answers to the challenges of climate change and a more sustainable EU agriculture.

Improved sustainability will be achieved by combined complementary effects of various instruments:

  • A simplified and more targeted cross-compliance mechanism, representing the basic layer of environmental requirements and obligations to be met in order to receive full CAP funding.
  • From 2015, the CAP introduced a new instrument in Pillar 1, the green payment, granted for implementing three compulsory practices, namely, crop diversification, ecological focus areas and permanent grassland. It represents 30% of the direct payment budget. As the green direct payment is compulsory, it has the advantage of introducing practices that are beneficial for the environment and climate change on large parts of the utilized agricultural area. 
  • Building on these compulsory elements, rural development continues to play a pivotal role in achieving the environmental objectives of the CAP and combating climate change. The rural development policy objectives are translated into priorities at EU-level and two of these objectives directly concern environment and climate change: 1) Restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems dependent on agriculture and forestry and 2) Promoting resource efficiency and supporting the shift towards a low carbon and climate resilient economy in the agriculture, food and forestry sectors. On top of this, innovation and environment as well as climate change are cross-cutting objectives within the EU's rural development policy, meaning that these three objectives should be integrated and reflected in Member State's strategies and instrument choice.

Farmers are rewarded for the services they deliver to the wider public even though they have no market value (e.g. landscapes, farmland biodiversity, climate change mitigation, etc.).

Wide flexibility is offered to Member States to implement these payments, which allows adapting the scheme to the specific national environmental and socioeconomic needs.

Within the second pillar (rural development), at least 30% of the budget of each Rural Development programme must be reserved for voluntary measures beneficial for the environment and climate change. These include agro–environmental-climate measures, organic farming, Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC), Natura 2000 areas, and investments, which are beneficial for the environment or climate. All these measures are adapted to local needs.

The whole set of complementary policy instruments is accompanied by related training measures and other support from the Farm Advisory System, insight gained from the Innovation Partnership and applied research, which would help farmers to implement appropriate solutions for their specific situations.

The EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, adopted in 2013, includes a Staff Working Document that provides principles and recommendations for integrating climate change adaptation considerations under the 2014-2020 rural development programmes. The 2018 evaluation of the EU adaptation strategy showed that the strategy has achieved its objectives, but the specific actions to improve the resilience of the sector are still limited and agriculture is still one of the EU sectors most vulnerable to climate change impacts both inside and outside Europe.

Further information on climate change adaptation in the agricultural sector and the CAP's role can be found here.

On 1 June 2018, the European Commission presented legislative proposals on the CAP beyond 2020. Based on 9 objectives:

  1. to ensure a fair income to farmers;
  2. to increase competitiveness;
  3. to rebalance the power in the food chain;
  4. climate change action;
  5. environmental care;
  6. to preserve landscapes and biodiversity;
  7. to support generational renewal;
  8. vibrant rural areas;
  9. to protect food and health quality).

The future CAP (2021-2027) will continue to ensure access to high-quality food and strong support for the unique European farming model. The new CAP has climate and environmental actions as clear objectives and aims to support a smart, resilient and sustainable development of the agricultural sector, promoting investments in adaptation and mitigation actions through instruments to tackle the specific needs of farmers and national farming systems.

Adaptation options have been identified for the farming sector. Measures that encourage a better management of soils and water resources can provide co-benefits, helping adaptation, mitigation and other environmental and social objectives. Drought management plans, land use planning or fostering behavioral change constitute other options.

The EEA Report Climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector in Europe gives an overview of how EU policies and programmes address climate change adaptation and includes examples of feasible and successful adaptation actions.

Helping farmers to access risk management tools, such as insurance schemes, can enable them to cope with losses from weather-related disasters increased in frequency and magnitude.

Moreover, the recently released Farm to Fork Strategy, at the heart of the European Green Deal, aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly, setting out both regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives, with the common agricultural and fisheries policies as key tools to support a just transition. The Farm to Fork Strategy promotes the transition to a sustainable food system that should: (i) have a neutral or positive environmental impact; (ii) help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts; (iii) reverse the loss of biodiversity; (iv) ensure food security, nutrition and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food; and (v) preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade. The strategy is also central to the Commission’s agenda to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Improving the knowledge base

Informed decision making is one of the priorities of the EU Adaptation Strategy to climate change. The agriculture sector has been addressed in the IPCC Special Report on global warming of 1.5 °C in various chapters, including sections on impacts of 1.5 ºC global warming on natural and human systems and section on implementing adaptation. Reinforcing the knowledge base on the impacts and adaptation, including their costs and benefits for the agriculture sector, is a priority. The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) assesses the current state of the scientific knowledge on the impacts of socio-economic drivers and their interactions with climate change on land, including degradation, desertification and food security, framing the context and analysing adaptation options, challenges and opportunities that are especially relevant for the agriculture sector.

The Commission's climate change policy in the agriculture sector is supported by significant research efforts to address outstanding needs. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is supporting DG CLIMA and DG AGRI in modelling the economic impact of climate change on the agricultural sector, as well as the evaluation of adaptation and mitigation policies. This includes the European research projects such as the set of PESETA projects (Projection of Economic impacts of climate change in Sectors of the European Union based on bottom-up Analysis).

The Commission's Research and Innovation funding programmes are also improving research and knowledge for adaptation to climate change in agriculture. Key recent projects are mainly related to sustainable use of water and nutrient resources in agriculture, by improving water management and increasing water use efficiency (e. g., MOSES, BINGO, REC, etc.) and implementing of precision farming techniques (e.g., Flourish, EO-FARM, FATIMA, etc.). As for the livestock sector, the AnimalChange project is about integration of mitigation and adaptation options for sustainable livestock production under climate change. ECONADAPT project has the purpose to support adaptation planning through building the knowledge base on the economics of adaptation to climate change and concerting this into practical information for decision makers.

The aim of the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI) between 21 countries is to identify and promote measures providing the co-benefits of reducing emissions and increasing the resilience of farming, forestry and biodiversity to climate change. In the framework of the FACCE-JPI program, the MACSUR project aims to address the impacts of climate change on European agriculture and to enhance adaptation capacity through improvements in modeling of impacts of climate change. 

Several international networks, organizations and association have been established to share knowledge and good practices: the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF) aims to encourage issues focused on maintaining the agrarian soil and its biodiversity in the context of sustainable agriculture; the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements – European Regional Group (IFOAM EU) embraces the entire organic food chain (from farmers and processors, retailers, certifiers, consultants, traders and researchers to environmental and consumer advocacy bodies) to promote the adoption of ecologically, socially and economically sound systems based on the principles of organic agriculture; COPA-COGECA, consisting of COPA (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations) and COGECA (General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives in the European Union) aims to promote the defense and the development of the European model of multifunctional and sustainable agriculture and to represent the interests of European cooperatives of the agricultural sector and to contribute to their development.


Supporting funding and investment 

EU funding of adaptation covering the agriculture sector is available through the LIFE Climate Action Sub-programme, which co-finances actions to support the development or implementation of adaptation strategies, encouraging projects with a high innovation, demonstration, and transferability potential.

Funding is available through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), which is one of the five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). The main aims of EAFRD are the improvement of agricultural competitiveness, the sustainable management of natural resources, the increase of climate action, and the balanced territorial development of rural areas. The INTERREG Europe Programme aims to help regional and local governments across Europe to develop and build better policy in the categories of low-carbon economy, environment and resource efficiency, SME competitiveness and research and innovation.

Moreover, the EU´s Research and Innovation programme HORIZON 2020 for the period from 2014 to 2020 includes climate-related action in the agriculture sector, mainly targeted in the Societal Challenge 2 'Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research, and the bio-economy'. Moreover, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), in the framework of the Copernicus program, supports adaptation and mitigation policies of the European Union by providing information about climate change, offering free and open access to climate data and tools based on the best available science, to help users and endeavor to meet their goals in dealing with the impacts of climate change.

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