San Salvatore Monferrato, Italy
Image credits: Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash, 2016

Climate change affects agriculture in many ways, 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). According to the EEA Report No 4/2019, crop productivity is projected to generally decrease in southern regions and to increase in the north, with extreme weather events causing local impacts all across Europe. To tackle these challenges, farmers will have to adapt to the new climatic conditions, pursuing also sustainability goals.

Policy framework

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.

The CAP 2014-2020 consists of two pillars: Direct Payments and Market-related expenditure (Pillar 1) and Rural Development (Pillar 2).

A number of instruments is offered to address climate change and environmental sustainability. A cross-compliance mechanism represents the basic layer of environmental requirements and obligations to be met in order to receive full CAP funding. From 2014 onwards, the CAP introduced a green payment under Pillar 1 for implementing three compulsory practices, namely, crop diversification, ecological focus areas and permanent grassland. It represents 30% of the direct payment budget.

Within the second pillar (rural development), at least 30% of the budget 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.

Farmers are thus rewarded for 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 the payments, which allows adapting the scheme to the specific national environmental and socioeconomic needs. The whole set of 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 proposals for the 2021-2027 spending period leave the architecture of the CAP largely intact, with mandatory and slightly adapted greening measures (now integrated in enhanced cross-compliance) and voluntary eco-schemes under the first pillar (now integrated in enhanced cross-compliance), and voluntary agri-environment and climate measures under the second pillar. In line with the European Green Deal, the reformed CAP puts more emphasis on environmental and climate action. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are now explicitly mentioned as policy objectives, with 40% of the total CAP budget to be spent on corresponding measures. As such, the reformed CAP will be instrumental for implementing the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity strategy.

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).

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. 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. 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.


Improving the knowledge base

A better informed decision making is one of the three priorities of the EU Adaptation Strategy to climate change, through 2 specific actions: Action 4: Bridge the knowledge gap and Action 5: Further develop Climate-ADAPT platform. The IPCC Special Report on global warming of 1.5 °C addressed impacts on the agricultural sector in various chapters, pointing to related adaptation needs. Enhancing the knowledge in these areas, including on costs and benefits of agriculture-related adaptation measures, is a priority. The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) assesses the current scientific knowledge, including on land degradation, desertification and food security, issue framing and adaptation options, as well as on specific challenges and opportunities for the agriculture sector.

The Commission's climate change policy in the agriculture sector is supported by dedicated JRC research and EU funded scientific programmes. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) supports DG CLIMA and DG AGRI in modelling the economic impact of climate change on the agricultural sector, and evaluating adaptation and mitigation policies (e.g., the PESETA projects). Several research projects dealing with adaptation in the agriculture sector have been funded under LIFE (e.g., AGRI ADAPT, ADAPT2CLIMA, LiveAdapt, etc) and H2020 (e.g., MOSES, BINGO, Flourish, FATIMA, RUN4LIFE, RESFOOD, IoF2020) programmes.

The Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI), between 24 countries, aims to build an integrated European Research Area addressing the interconnected challenges of sustainable agriculture, food security and impacts of climate change.

Several international networks, organizations and associations 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 Organics Europe) promotes organic farming, embracing the entire food chain (from farmers and processors, retailers, certifiers, consultants, traders and researchers to environmental and consumer advocacy bodies); COPA-COGECA, consisting of COPA (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations) and COGECA (General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives in the European Union) aims to promote and develop the European model of multifunctional and sustainable agriculture and to represent the interests of European cooperatives of the agricultural sector.


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.

Highlighted indicators

Relevant tile