Agri-environmental indicators are a useful tool for analysing the relationship between agriculture and the environment and identifying trends in this evolving interaction.
In January 2000, the European Commission published the policy document "Indicators for the Integration of Environmental Concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy", which identified a set of agri-environmental indicators to serve the following purposes:
- provide information on the state of the environment in agriculture,
- understand and monitor the linkages between agricultural practices and their effects on environment,
- provide contextual information, particularly concerning the diversity of the EU's agri-ecosystems,
- assess the extent to which agricultural and rural development policies promote environment friendly farming activities and sustainable agriculture,
- inform the global assessment process of agricultural sustainability.
Agri-environmental indicators have to cover positive and negative effects of agriculture and should be sufficiently differentiated to be able to capture regional differences in environmental conditions.
The potential application of agri-environmental indicators for assessing progress in the integration of environmental concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy is more limited. This limitation is due to the complex links between policy measures, changes in farming practices and environmental improvements, and other numerous other intervening factors.
Agri-environmental indicators can make a valuable contribution to policy evaluation, but they have to be supplemented, on a case-by-case basis, by additional policy-relevant information. With the help of agri-environmental indicators it is possible to show developments over time and to provide quantitative information.
To improve, develop and compile the agri-environment indicators identified at the appropriate geographical level, the IRENA (Indicator Reporting on the integration of Environmental concerns into Agricultural policy) project was launched in September 2002. This was followed by a Commission policy document ( "Development of agri-environmental indicators for monitoring the integration of environmental concerns into the common agricultural policy").
Still a number of limitations need to be overcome to arrive at a fully operational set of agri-environmental indicators. Further work is needed with respect to
- conceptual and methodological improvement,
- deficiencies in the data sets,
- extension of the indicators to the new Member States.
The Commission is currently working on the development and improvement of the agri-environmental indicators. A streamlined set of 28 indicators is under development, in close cooperation with the Member States.
All relevant information on these indicators, including data for each indicator, can be found on a dedicated Eurostat website.