EXCLUSIVE / Europe’s farming lobby has warned MEPs the industry will quit the European Union if they vote to cap agricultural gas emissions in a crunch vote this Wednesday (28 October) in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
MEPs will vote in plenary on the Environment Committee’s report on the revised National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive, which limits different types of air pollution in each EU nation.
Agriculture, which has a notoriously powerful lobby, is responsible for 40% of methane emissions in the EU and 95% of ammonia pollution, according to the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The EEB branded the mailshot a form of blackmail.
When contacted by EURACTIV, Copa-Cogeca denied farmers would quit the EU. “We do not say we will quit the EU but we call for realistic targets otherwise production will be shifted to non EU countries where emissions are worse,” said a spokesperson.
Methane is a more short-lived but much more powerful global-warming greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It also tranforms into ozone, an air pollutant. Ammonia causes soil nitrification and acidification.
The revised NEC Directive is the first time the European Commission has tried to cap methane. The executive is pushing for a 30% methane reduction by 2030, backed by Environment Committee MEPs, and a 27% ammonia cut, which MEPs increased to 29%.
Copa-Cogeca is a Brussels-based lobby association representing European farmers and agri-cooperatives. On Friday, the group’s secretary general Pekka Pesonen emailed MEPs a letter, which EURACTIV has seen.
He said, “The targets […] are undoubtedly detrimental for the European farming community, the environment, the economy and the society as a whole becuase the only way to reach them is by reducing production in Europe and shift it to third countries.
“This huge structural change will impact the vast majority of European farms and to the way our agricultural model is organised.”
The European People’s Party, the largest group in the Parliament, has tabled amendments removing the methane and ammonia caps from the bill. Copa-Cogeca are thought to have targeted MEPs in the other groups in the legislature.
Environmental campaigners poured scorn on what they described as a scandalous, empty threat to leave the bloc. They pointed out that agriculture sector was the only one pushing for preferential treatment. Unlike many other sectors, they said, its emissions reductions were slight, despite the availability of cost-effective technical solutions.
Pieter de Pous, the European Environmental Bureau’s (EEB) policy director said, “MEPs should not fall for these arguments which essentially constitute blackmail. Amendments to exempt farmers from pollution limits will favour the large agro-businesses who do most of the polluting, but they are certainly not in the public interest.”
A group of nine green NGOs, including the EEB, also wrote to MEPs last week. Over 400,000 people die each year because of air pollution, they said.
Up to 42,865 additional lives could be saved each year in Europe, if the Environment Committee’s report was backed, according to the group,
2030 climate targets
Pesonen argued that the NEC Directive was not the right legislation to cap methane emissions. As it is a greenhouse gas, it should be handled by upcoming rules on the EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets, he said.
In October last year, EU leaders agreed a target of at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.The commitment is the cornerstone of the bloc’s negotiating position at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, which aims to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
In July, the Parliament’s Environment Committee backed stronger air pollution targets than the Commission’s original proposal. Before that, the Agriculture Committee had called for the methane and ammonia targets to be dropped from the legislation.
The Environment Committee report on the NEC Directive was narrowly passed by the committee. 38 voted in favour, 28 against, and two abstained.
National ceilings for six pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, methane, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds) were set for countries to reach by 2030 by MEPs in the Environment Committee.
They backed binding targets for 2025 for all the pollutants, except methane. Methane targets were delayed until 2030 to give the agriculture sector time to adapt.
The Environment Committee report increases the ammonia reduction from 27% to 29% by 2030. Copa-Cogeca want the target brought back down to 27%.
Wednesday’s plenary vote will seal the Parliament’s position ahead of negotiations with the Council of Ministers over the draft legislation. Both institutions must agree an identical text before it can become law.
Environment ministers on 15 June demanded flexibility in meeting EU air quality targets, after dropping a cap on methane emissions from their version of the draft pollution rules.
British Conservative MEP Julie Girling, the lead lawmaker on the bill, voted against her own report after a coalition of left and liberal MEPs pushed for the stronger targets.
Girling argued that the stronger targets would derail negotiations with the Council of Ministers. The Council and Parliament were seen as so opposed over the bill that the NEC Directive narrowly missed being axed as part of the Commission’s drive for ‘better regulation’.
In December, Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the rules would be changed during three-way talks between the institutions to make a deal more likely.
Girling said at the time, “This legislative process has been overshadowed throughout by the Commission’s threat to withdraw their proposal and their stated intention to hold a review after the European Parliament adopts its initial position.”