Agriculture and climate change
Agriculture is highly exposed to climate change, as farming activities directly depend on climatic conditions. But, agriculture too contributes to the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. However, agriculture can also help to provide solutions to the overall climate change problem.
How will farming in the EU be affected by climate change?
We now have solid evidence about climate change - it is real and it will affect the EU, with European farming first in line:
- decreasing average annual and seasonal rainfall will be a serious problem in many regions,
- more sudden heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods across the EU.
Even if some climate changes may be positive for some northern European regions, most will be negative, affecting regions already suffering from environmental or other changes. Farming will be most affected in the southern and south-eastern regions (see map).
According to the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPPC), the worst consequences may not be felt until 2050, but significant adverse impacts are expected even in the short term from more frequent extreme conditions.
In 2007, the EU conducted a study of the impact of climate change on different European agri-climatic zones, and options for adaptation.
Projected impacts from climate change in different EU regions
In April 2009, the European Commission presented a White Paper laying out a European framework for action to improve Europe's resilience to climate change, emphasising the need to integrate adaptation into all key European policies and enhance co-operation at all levels of governance.
Complementing the White Paper, the report "Adapting to climate change: the challenge for European agriculture and rural areas" summarises the main impacts of climate change on EU agriculture, examines adaptation needs, describes the implications for the CAP and explores possible orientations for future action. It aims at further engaging Member States and the farming community into a debate and action on adaptation needs that result from climate pressures.
The Commission staff working document "The role of European agriculture in climate change mitigation" concentrates on greenhouse gas emissions and trends in agriculture in the EU and possibilities for reducing them. It also gives an overview of the current instruments of the CAP that facilitate climate change mitigation, examining in particular how the rural development programmes for 2007-2013 contribute to this objective result from climate pressures.
>> Read the working document [306 KB]
How farming influences climate change
Mainly by producing two powerful greenhouse gases:
- methane - from livestock digestion processes and stored animal manure,
- nitrous oxide - from organic and mineral nitrogen fertilisers.
In the EU, however, the production of these gases is limited, and falling. Currently, about 9 % of total EU greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture (down from 11 % in 1990).
Encouragingly, agricultural emissions in the 27 EU countries actually fell by 20 % between 1990 and 2006 as a result of the significant decline in livestock numbers, more efficient application of fertilizers and better manure management. This is well above the average 11 % reduction in emissions in all EU sectors.
In future, farming emissions are likely to fall even further, as a result of increasing social pressure and the EU's high emissions reduction targets.
How farms can reduce emissions now
Measures already in the common agricultural policy (CAP), such as cross-compliance, and rural development measures will continue to reduce agricultural emissions by:
- helping to modernise farms (e.g. via energy-efficient equipment and buildings),
- training and advisory services,
- providing support for biogas,
- offering compensation for the extra costs incurred by farmers who voluntarily help protect the environment (agri-environmental schemes).
National authorities are encouraged to include measures to tackle gas emissions when designing and implementing their rural development programmes - climate change is a key priority in the EU's rural development policy.
How farming can adapt to the changed climate
To cope with projected climate changes, farmers can:
- change their crop rotation to make the best use of available water,
- adjust sowing dates according to temperature and rainfall patterns,
- use crop varieties better suited to new weather conditions (e.g. more resilient to heat and drought),
- plant hedgerows or small wooded areas on arable land that reduce water run-off and act as wind-breaks.
However, farmers cannot shoulder the burden alone. Public policy must support farmers by:
- helping them adapt farm structures and production methods,
- helping them continue to provide services for the rural environment,
- keeping the farming community well informed about climate risk,
- adapting options to the farming community,
- providing advisory services and training.
The CAP already has some building blocks such as decoupled farm support (subsidies that are not linked to production volumes) and rural development policy which will be important in an adaptation strategy for agriculture.
Future CAP reforms will further take account of adaptation needs, so farmers can continue managing their businesses in a sustainable way, ensuring the provision of public benefits such as sustaining rural communities and maintaining rural landscapes.
>> "Member States fact-sheets on agriculture and climate change":
BE [74 KB] - CZ [50 KB] - DK [55 KB] - EE [28 KB] - IE [36 KB] - EL [163 KB] - ES [40 KB] - FR [93 KB] - CY [34 KB] - LV [24 KB] - LT [95 KB] - HU [116 KB] - NL [43 KB] - AT [46 KB] - PL [95 KB] - PT [63 KB] - RO [32 KB] - FI [43 KB] - SV [40 KB] - UK [87 KB]
>> "The role of European agriculture in climate change mitigation" [306 KB] (Commission staff working document, 07/2009)
>> "Climate change: the challenges for agriculture" (Fact sheet)
>> "Adaptation of agriculture to climate change" (Study report)