EU agriculture ministers and MEPs from European Parliament’s agriculture committee want to see farmers’ interests included in the new framework for land-use emissions, a responsibility that falls to their ‘environment’ colleagues.
A revamp of the EU’s land use regulation (LULUCF) forms part of the EU’s “Fit for 55” package, aiming for a 55% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
As the file is about climate action, the environment ministers are in charge of hammering out the member states’ position on the proposed LULUCF regulation. In contrast, agriculture ministers can only give an opinion.
Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) will close the loop by drafting the negotiating mandate for the other EU legislative body tasked with amending the Commission’s proposal.
Even so, “the Agriculture Council did wish to take this opportunity to hold an exchange of views on the subject to ensure that the mechanism will take full account of both farming and forestry needs,” France’s Minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie, who currently holds the rotating presidency over the Agriculture Council, told journalists after the latest farm ministers meeting on Thursday (7 April) in Luxembourg.
Farm ministers’ counterparts in the European Parliament are no different, as the MEPs in the agriculture committee adopted their opinion on the proposal in their meeting on 31 March.
The AFOLU issue
A primary concern for farming is the Commission’s proposal to merge the land-use sector with agricultural production under a common framework that keeps track of greenhouse gas emissions and removals.
According to the EU executive’s plans, these merged agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU) sectors should reach net-zero emissions by 2035.
“This will mean combining removals with reduced emissions from the forestry and land-use sector and agriculture, including non-carbon emissions such as methane from livestock or nitrous oxide from fertiliser use,” agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski explained during the ministerial meeting last week.
The Commissioner defended the EU executive’s plans for a unified pillar as it “would help increase the consistency among the different policies, including the CAP” and would bring “simplification, flexibility, and synergies.”
The European Parliament’s agricultural committee also backed the Commissioner’s position. The creation of a land sector including non-CO2 emissions “is coherent and leads to a holistic policy framework,” the committee stated in their opinion.
At the same time, MEPs called for an impact assessment on aspects including food security and alternatives to fossil fuels before implementing the step.
A “number of member states” said they favoured creating a pillar that comprises forestry, land use and agriculture, Denormandie concluded after the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg.
This “would ensure that we can bring under one hat their carbon storage and sequestration, as well as bring down other types of emissions,” he added.
Taking account of natural fluctuations
Other countries, however, had issues with the idea of creating a separate AFOLU chapter.
While the Commission is right in wanting to ramp up the contributions of the agriculture and forestry sectors to climate action, “we are rather sceptical about the AFOLU pillar proposal,” the German representative told other member states’ representatives.
“I am not sure setting up a single pillar will increase coherence between our land-use policies,” Hungary’s representative Peter Benko said, arguing the step would lead to increased costs for farmers and a decrease in livestock farming while only bringing limited emission reductions.
Other countries pointed to the difficulty of setting fixed, absolute targets, such as net-zero, by 2035, particularly in a sector where emissions and removals can fluctuate and are prone to natural disturbances.
Some countries, therefore, proposed alternative approaches to benchmarking emission reductions, which were lauded by many of their colleagues.
While Sweden called for relative rather than absolute reduction targets, Portugal proposed a model with additional flexibilities to account for unpredicted fluctuations.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]