NGOs criticise Commission over CAP impact on biodiversity

Wild flowers along agricultural fields to increase biodiversity as part of biological farming. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Environmental NGOs have accused the European Commission of “greenwashing” and cherry-picking positive messages from an EU-funded independent evaluation study about the impact of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on habitats, landscapes and biodiversity.

Last Friday (27 March), the Commission published a study assessing “the positive and negative, direct and indirect impacts” of the 2014-2020 CAP on biodiversity, habitats and landscape and to what extent the CAP has contributed to the EU ‘Biodiversity Strategy to 2020′, adopted in May 2011.

The evaluation support study, funded by the Commission, was carried out by an independent contractor, the Alliance Environnement Consortium.

The report highlights, in particular, that member states can make much greater use of available CAP funding and other protections to safeguard and improve biodiversity.

For instance, EU countries have so far insufficiently protected semi-natural grassland and other natural features and not always made income support available on the most marginal land where biodiversity is reliant on continued grazing.

“The evaluation has shown that there is scope to do much more with the available funding to help farmers tackle Europe’s biodiversity crisis,” said David Mottershead, a policy analyst at the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), which is part of the consortium contractor that conducted the study.

Mottershead’s hope is that the evaluation will result in tougher rules being set to protect semi-natural habitats in the future, and spending which is better targeted to the specific biodiversity priorities of each member state – particularly within Natura 2000 sites.

In the press release following the publication of the study, the European Commission has interpreted the independent findings by saying they show that the CAP increases member states’ ambition when it comes to protecting biodiversity.

The Commission also added that its post-2020 CAP proposals have the potential to fully contribute to the transition towards greater sustainability and support farmers along the way.

EU agency: Greening of the EU main farm policy not delivered yet

Policies aimed at integrating environment and climate concerns into Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy have not delivered, according to a report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

NGOs don’t share Commission’s assessment

However, a number of environmental NGOs have criticised the way the outcomes of the study were interpreted and communicated by the EU executive.

“Frankly, it’s greenwashing. It does not live up to the high standards of fact-checking our citizens would expect from the EU,” said Ariel Brunner, senior head of policy at Birdlife Europe.

Birdlife said there’s an “outrageous” pro-intensive agriculture bias, as if the consultants were tasked with cherrypicking examples to make the CAP look sustainable.

According to other NGOs, the evaluation goes much deeper into issues than what was communicated by the Commission.

For the WWF, the report debunks the twisted narrative, pushed by the farming industry interests and further propped up by DG Agriculture itself, that the CAP supports biodiversity.

“There may be some exceptions but, all in all, the CAP bolsters an unsustainable agricultural system that tramples our natural world, and decimates biodiversity and water,” said Jabier Ruiz, a senior policy officer for agriculture at WWF’s European Policy Office.

For the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the largest European network of environmental organisations, the independent findings state very clearly that the EU farmland biodiversity is in an alarming state and that the current CAP has not delivered any significant improvements.

“Despite the positive spin DG AGRI tried to give, this report rings alarm bells for the new CAP, as the evaluation repeatedly states that member states have not used the flexibility in the current CAP to achieve biodiversity results,” said Celia Nyssens, EEB’s agricultural policy officer.

She added that it’s hard to imagine that even a more flexible new CAP could deliver any environmental ambition at all.

WWF and other NGOs are advocating for a “drastic reorientation” of the CAP support to protect nature.

In a letter pushed by the NGOs and now signed by more than 3,600 scientists, the Commission is asked to reform the CAP and address the biodiversity and climate crisis.

2,500 scientists urge EU to reform environmentally 'damaging' CAP

More than 2,500 scientists across the EU have joined forces and reached out to the EU parliament in a letter urging them to “to act on the science, and undertake a far-reaching reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) without delay.”

As the criteria to receive CAP payments are currently considered inadequate, the scientists state the view that, if it continues business as usual, the new CAP could risk undermining the EU’s environmental flagship policy, the European Green Deal.

“We are expecting the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork (F2F) strategies to clearly state to protect nature,” said WWF’s Jabier Ruiz, mentioning two planned communication embedded in the Green Deal.

The Farm to Fork strategy was initially due to be announced in March, but this was pushed back until April due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. The date is also to be confirmed and may be subject to change.

EPP calls for further postponement of Farm to Fork strategy

The European People’s Party (EPP) group has called for another postponement of the planned Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) until at least after the summer, citing the “crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic”, but its position has been met with criticism from some stakeholders.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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