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Subsidies prevent climate protection

EU agar spending accounts for the second largest part of the EU budget. Around a quarter of this has been earmarked for climate and environmental protection - and virtually useless. This is the conclusion reached by the EU Court of Auditors in a Special report published on 21 June.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has hardly any climate protection function. The EU’s greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased since 2010, despite investments of around 100 billion euros in the period from 2014 to 2020. The total agricultural budget amounted to 374 billion euros.

Production growth and fewer climate gases at the same time is not possible

A lot of money, then, which fizzled out. There is an explanation why this is so, says Klaus-Heine Lehne, chief EU auditor, in an interview with the “Zeit”:

You cannot have both, produce more and emit fewer greenhouse gases.

The situation is paradoxical: most of the EU money still goes into direct payments, which mainly support large companies with high productivity, i.e. in the so-called “hectare money” and similar measures. Another, smaller part is intended to mitigate the resulting climate and environmental damage. According to the plan, the agricultural sector is to be climate neutral by 2050.

Half of agricultural emissions come from animal husbandry

10 to 15 percent of the EU’s climate emissions come from agriculture – without food imports. Half comes from animal husbandry. However, the CAP does not aim to reduce livestock without at the same time increasing imports, Lehne notes.

There are also disincentives in agriculture. 20 Percent of emissions occur on drained soils, which account for only 2 percent of the total soil. Wetlands are particularly valuable for the climate because they can store a lot of CO2. However, farmers who work on drained land are still supported with EU funds. Greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer actually increased from 2010 to 2018.

The EU Court of Auditors recommends, among other things, effective incentives to reduce emissions from animal husbandry and fertilisation, to promote the rewetting of wetlands and to check whether the polluter pays principle also applies in agriculture. Otherwise, the conclusion is that it will be difficult to achieve the climate targets of “net zero” by 2050 in the agricultural sector.

Major changes are not expected in the coming period

This will not change much for the next funding period 2023 to 2027. The most recent agricultural budget, which the EU member states and the EU Parliament agreed on 25 June after lengthy discussions, provides for a fifth of direct payments to be invested in environmental conservation measures from 2023 and a quarter from 2025. A total of EUR 387 billion is earmarked for the EU agricultural budget, which should have entered into force in 2021, by 2027.

Environmental associations such as WWF and Greenpeace protested, the green EU politician Martin Häusling described the new eligibility criteria to the “taz” as a “green gift to the agricultural industry”.

Promote with EU funds, punish with taxes

Thus, he brings up one of the areas of tension both in the EU and within the EU countries: Livestock and agriculture are differently important sources of income for the EU countries, some depend to a large extent on direct payments. Agricultural politicians, on the other hand, are often associated with a large number of agricultural organizations that expect their interests to be represented.

Therefore, to hope for the development of the EU countries in terms of climate in the implementation of the agricultural support criteria could fail. All the more so as the subject hurries. Supporting a certain approach with EU funds in order to slow it down again through taxes is not the point, says Lehne. “Technically, everything is possible, you just have to want it politically,” says the lawyer. However, he also criticises the lack of differentiation between the agricultural regions of the European Union, which are very different from one another, and notes the “enormous persistence” of the agricultural economy.

As a last resort, there remain the consumers to whom politics can appeal. Which is just as absurd,because they pay for the EU funding.