7 May 2021

EU Commission wants to reward farmers for their climate-friendly practices


Curbing emissions and compensating those generated by other sectors is the EU Commission’s plan for climate-friendly agriculture. In order to achieve it, however, farmers must be paid for their efforts

by Matteo Cavallito


The European Commission wants to launch a new initiative to “reward climate-friendly farming practices”. A project conducted within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) but also through further initiatives, including the development of a carbon market. This is the hope expressed by a report published in recent weeks by Brussels that anticipates the EU initiative on carbon farming, or the capture of carbon in agriculture, which should be adopted in the second half of this year as part of the Farm to Fork strategy. The document is the result of the meeting of the working group coordinated by the Institute of European Environmental Policy (IEEP).

The Commission seeks a low-carbon agriculture

According to the Commission, under the Green Deal European economy aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The intermediate step is set for 2030 when greenhouse gas emissions will have to be reduced by 55% compared to 1990 levels. Agricultural practices play a key role. “Agriculture is responsible for about 10% of total EU GHG emissions and needs to contribute to the EU reduction goals,” the report says. Moreover, “the contribution of the agriculture and forest sectors will be essential to reach the climate target because of their unique role as sinks, and therefore their capacity to compensate for the unavoidable GHG emissions of agriculture and other sectors.”

Five thematic areas

The survey focuses on five thematic areas: peatland restoration and rewetting; agroforestry; maintaining and enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) on mineral soils; grasslands; and livestock farm carbon audits. The goal is the development of new methods to sequester carbon accompanied by remuneration for the results. Unlike with action-based payments – which reward farmers for implementing climate-friendly practices – in outcome-based schemes, payment is linked to measurable indicators of the climate benefits actually delivered. “The advantage of this approach is that the use of public or private funds is more directly linked to the intended climate objective” the report says.

Result-based schemes

The development of the schemes is still in the early stages. The Commission, however, is already making some proposals. Including the plan for measuring organic carbon sequestration in mineral soils: “schemes should move towards accounting for the whole GHG balance associated with increasing SOC levels to ensure that the full climate impact is captured (including CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions associated with soil management). The measure of sequestration on grasslands, at the same time, should be based on “cost minimization, usability and transparency.”

However, there is still a long way to go. “The EU Carbon Farming Initiative should encourage the development of a range of locally or regionally tailored result-based pilot schemes” the Commission says. “The experience gathered through pilot schemes will be essential to upscale result-based carbon farming, and by expanding farmers’ knowledge and understanding of the potential benefits to them.”