10 ‘urgent actions’ for a new CAP: ‘We can make much better use of taxpayers’ money’

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/Raphael Comber
©GettyImages/Raphael Comber

Related tags: Cap, Common agricultural policy

The scientific community is backing 10 ‘urgent actions’ it says will improve the Common Agricultural Policy, including transferring Direct Payments into payments for public goods.

The European Union is currently agreeing to funding guidelines for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

However, according to researchers in Germany, this new CAP falls short in several areas – particularly concerning biodiversity and climate action.

A position paper published yesterday (8 March) in People and Nature ​lists recommendations for the EU and its Member States to boost the sustainability of the post-2020 CAP.

The paper was authored by 21 ecologists, economists and agricultural scientists from the German Centre for integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and the University of Rostock.

In its petition form, posted online in autumn last year, the paper received support from over 3,600 scientists from 27 EU and 36 non-EU countries.

“We have published a comprehensive evaluation of the CAP in 2017, covering all aspects of the policy. It, alongside many other key documents indicating a need for a substantial reform of the CAP, has been fully ignored - as published in our paper in Science last August​,”​ explained first author Dr Guy Pe’er, ecologist at the iDiv research centre and at the UFZ.

“What prompted this paper has been the sense that evidence is being ignored which could have been used to make a much better use of taxpayers' money. Together with a large group of experts, in a series of two workshops, we demonstrated that this is doable and listed the ‘how’,”​ he told FoodNavigator.

“Now [just one] question remained - given that knowledge is already there - what is needed to make sure it is used? This has led to the call for the scientific community to join.” 

‘Business as usual’ is out of the question

Sustainability is at the heart of the paper, which aims to influence EU-wide agricultural policies over the next seven years.

“The objective of the paper is to demonstrate that the way to sustainability is not impossible to choose and follow - if the will and courage are there,”​ Dr Pe’er told this publication.

“And to state clearly that a) a business as usual – which the CAP currently follows – is out of the question; and b) that we, i.e. the scientific community across disciplines, are ready to support the necessary transformation of the CAP into what the EU claims it is going to be.”

The co-authors are calling on the European Commission, the Parliament, the Council and Member States to use the ‘breadth of scientific knowledge and experiences’ from past CAP reforms to ‘drastically improve’ the CAP.

This, they say, would avoid a ‘policy failure’ and ‘further ineffective use of taxpayers’ money’.

“As an overarching target, all CAP elements, without exception, should be aligned with the principles of sustainability, multi-functionality and public goods.

“We propose 10 urgent action points, accompanied by targets and implementation options to focus on 40% of the EU budget on public goods and societal objectives and improve the management of half of the EU’s land area,” ​they noted.

Rethinking Direct Payments a ‘top priority’

The first ‘urgent action’, which the authors say is a top priority, is the transfer of so-called Direct Payments to farmers into payments for activities that serve public goods and societal expectations.

Such payments are predominantly used to guarantee farmers’ incomes. Direct payments to farmers take up 70% (€40bn) of the EU’s agricultural budget and is distributed based on the size of the area being cultivated. Essentially, the largest landowners receive the largest payments.

Yet the authors suggest such money could be better used – including to conserve and restore small-scale landscape structures with flowers, hedges and grassland.

As biodiversity improves – with the addition of birds, insects and mammals drawn to these restored areas – so too does agriculture, they argue.

The UK’s domestic agricultural policy​, introduced in January in preparation for its departure from the EU, includes a similar policy. The current subsidy system of Direct Payments will be discontinued, in favour of a system that benefits farmers ‘delivery specific public benefits’.

This means that farmers and land managers in England that provide ‘public goods’, such as better air and water quality, improved access to the countryside, measures to reduce flooding, and ensure higher animal welfare standards, will be awarded with public money.

Of the new Bill, Dr Pe’er said the UK has made ‘very strong and promising declarations’, which are ‘definitely inspiring – at least in principle’.

“But we all know that the devil is in the detail," ​he told us. “How it is designed and implemented in reality is yet to be seen - but we will certainly keep an eye to follow what is done in the UK.

“Until then, we keep looking also into other good examples such as Switzerland - and collecting best practice examples from each country and region where good practice is planned and implemented.”

The 10 action points are:

  1. Transform direct payments into payments for public goods​, to align both environmental and socio-environmental dimensions of sustainability;
  2. Provide sufficient support for effective climate change mitigation​, aiming to reduce GHG emissions in the agricultural sector;
  3. Provide sufficient support for effective instruments to maintain biodiversity and ecosystems​, aiming to halt and reverse ongoing declines in farmland biodiversity;
  4. Promote innovative approaches to design and implement measures addressing the environmental challenges​, such as result‐based remuneration of Agri-Environment-Climate Measures (AECM);
  5. Enhance spatial planning and collaborative implementation of landscape‐level measures;
  6. Require MSs to set S.M.A.R.T. targets in their Strategic Plans​ in order to fulfil all CAP objectives;
  7. Revise the set of indicators​ to ensure they are supported by the best available science and comply with the indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);
  8. Strengthen environmental monitoring and enforcement​ to ensure that CAP instruments lead to desirable results;
  9. Identify and address global impacts of the CAP especially in the global South​, to achieve a reduction of environmental leakage and global negative land‐use effects as well as market distortions by EU agriculture, and to comply with the EU's principle of ‘Policy Coherence for Development’; and
  10. Improve governance of the CAP and its reform​ in order to enhance transparency, accountability, participation and knowledge‐uptake in line with SDG 16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development).

Source: People and Nature
‘Action needed for the EU Common Agricultural Policy to address sustainability challenges’
Published 8 March 2020
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10080​ 
Authors : Guy Pe’er, Aletta Bonn, Helge Bruelheide, Petra Dieker, Nico Eisenhauer, Peter H. Feindt, Gregor Hagedorn, Bernd Hansjürgens, Irina Herzon, Ângela Lomba, Elisabeth Marquand et al.

Related topics: Sustainability, Organics, Policy

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