Commission says Germany lags behind in reducing agriculture emissions

Earlier this month, Germany's environment ministry presented a National Peatland Protection Strategy, which, according to the ministry, is to ensure both the protection of intact peatlands and the restoration and sustainable management of previously drained peatlands. [sacratomato_HR/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Germany’s roadmap for greener CAP subsidies.

The European Commission has highlighted Germany’s lack of progress in reducing emissions by implementing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Industry associations also see current plans as falling short of the mark. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Even though greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector in Germany have dropped 19% compared to 1990, the amount has plateaued over the last two decades, the Commission’s document states.

It continues that Germany should promote emissions reduction and carbon reduction to a greater extent in its national strategic plan, which is to be submitted to the Commission by the end of the year.

The so-called eco-schemes – incentives paid to farmers who voluntarily adhere to environmentally friendly practices – and the “agri-environment-climate measures” (AECM) offer the possibility of promoting climate measures with CAP funds in the coming funding period.

While a catalogue of eco-schemes is already provided for in the laws the Bundestag passed in June, the design of the AECMs falls mainly within the competence of federal states, whose plans are still in the works.

Emission reduction potential

“We have to reduce these emissions, 1.5-degree-compatible, but that can only be done with an agricultural policy that also acts in this sense,” Xenia Brand from the German Working Association of Farmers (AbL) told EURACTIV Germany.

“For us, this also includes the promotion of pasture farming because the preservation of permanent grassland is a climate protection measure due to its high carbon content,” she added.

“Of the seven eco-regulations, very few have a climate-positive effect,” said Christian Rehmer of the environmental organisation BUND. He added that the most effective regulations are those that promote the protection of grasslands or agroforestry systems.

The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) has also repeatedly emphasised agriculture’s potential for climate change mitigation.

“Agriculture and forestry remain the most important pillars in the creation of negative carbon emissions in the long term,” said DBV Secretary General Bernhard Krüsken at the end of June on the adoption of the amended climate protection law.

“To achieve this, farmers must be politically supported in the area of humus build-up, and this climate service must be remunerated accordingly,” he added.

The Climate Protection Act sets sectoral targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for various sectors of the economy, which were tightened with the amendments passed in June. In agriculture, emissions will be reduced by 2030 to 56 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, compared to 1990 levels.

“Agriculture and forestry are the only economic sectors that can store carbon naturally,” said Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner when the law was passed.

This is particularly important because it is impossible to operate emission-free in the agricultural and forestry sector as part of the biological system, she said, adding that “to achieve the goals, corresponding supporting measures and funding are necessary.”

Protecting and restoring peatlands

But according to Christian Rehmer, the German plans for implementing the CAP have not included any funds to promote climate-reducing measures such as peatland restoration, carbon storage or a reduction in livestock numbers.

In a joint statement, the farmer’s working group and the German environmental protection organisation Deutsche Naturschutzring demanded that the environmental impact of the CAP strategic plan is reassessed. This should be done in terms of its contribution to achieving the amended Climate Protection Act and the Climate Protection Plan 2030.

The reduction of animal numbers and the “adequate financing of rewetting measures on peat soils”, in particular, should be given more significant consideration as climate protection measures, according to the two organisations.

In its document, the Commission also points to the importance of peatlands as carbon reservoirs and recommends that Germany promote “the protection of carbon-rich soils through rewetting and the restoration of peat bog areas and wetlands”.

Earlier this month, Germany’s environment ministry presented a National Peatland Protection Strategy, which, according to the ministry, ensures both the protection of intact peatlands and the restoration and sustainable management of previously drained peatlands.

But associations and the opposition criticised the strategy because it was not adopted by the whole government, mainly because it was not coordinated with the agriculture ministry.

“First of all, we have to rewet peatlands, but secondly, we also have to ensure that people can still farm on the rewetted areas,” said Rehmer. He added that farmers whose peatlands can no longer be farmed need to be adequately compensated.

Rewarding climate protection

According to Rehmer, sufficient money and “massive consultations” are necessary to ensure measures are successful. “This is a necessity that is almost not addressed by the CAP,” he added.

“However, all concepts for rewetting must be developed voluntarily and with local people,” commented DBV Deputy Secretary-General Udo Hemmerling on the peatland protection strategy. The farms needed a long-term economic perspective, he added.

Concerning the CAP strategic plan, the DBV also calls for greater promotion of grassland management within the eco-schemes. For example, a grassland climate bonus could be introduced to “reward the carbon sink of agriculture”, Hemmerling told EURACTIV Germany.

According to the European Commission, greenhouse gas emissions from grassland are higher in Germany than in any other EU country, despite a downward trend. The national strategic plan should therefore promote less intensive grassland management, the Commission said.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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