EU ministers discuss impact of agriculture on global warming

Although far behind the energy sector, agriculture – and livestock in particular – is the second single largest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-25.

Environment and agriculture ministers held a joint informal meeting on 11 September in London to discuss the impact of agriculture on climate change. This was the first time that such a meeting has taken place at EU level.

The ministers heard presentations by speakers on a number of topics, according to a press statement from the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Among other things, they were told that southern and central Europe was “likely to face great challenges in terms of water shortage and heat stress”.

On the brighter side, they were told that “the impacts of climate change on Europe’s farming and food industries may be less than the impact on the rest of the world.”

Climate change also offers a number of opportunities to farmers in terms of mitigation and adaptation policies, including cultivating the energy crops needed to produce biomass and liquid biofuels for transport. 

"Farmers can help to address the drastic impacts of climate change, for example through water management to reduce the risks of flooding. The agricultural sector also needs to consider how it can contribute to reducing its own direct emissions of greenhouse gases, for instance through energy crop production and changing their management practices for fertiliser and manure application," said UK Secretary of State Margarett Beckett after the meeting.

"It will be important that we continue to share our experiences to manage the impacts of climate change and address major risks, such as the fire and flooding events we have recently witnessed across Europe," she added.  

At the meeting, the European Environment Agency presented the ministers with its 2005 Environment Outlook report. In the report, it can be read that climate change is expected to exert pressure on water resources, "particularly in southern and eastern Europe".

According to figures by Eurostat, agriculture represents around 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-25, the single second largest sector after energy. The bulk of those emissions originate from farm animals, whose manure and digestion process - a process coyly named 'enteric fermentation' - release methane which contributes to global warming.

In 2003, 'enteric fermentation' accounted for 32% of emissions from agriculture and manure 20%. The remainder (48%) came from agricultural soils which are treated with manure and fertilisers based on nitrogen.

From 1999 to 2003, overall emissions from agriculture decreased by 6% due to declining livestock and a decrease in the use of manure and fertilisers. 

Under the EU's biofuels directive, 5.75% of all transport fossil fuels are to be replaced with biofuels by 2010. A biomass action plan is currently being drafted by the European Commission.

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