CAP funds attributed to climate action had little impact on emissions

Posted on Monday, 28 June 2021
emissions agri transp energ 0

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) Special Report on the Common Agricultural Policy and Climate has found that the €100 billion of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds attributed to climate action had little impact on such emissions, which have not changed significantly since 2010 and CAP mostly finances measures with a low potential to mitigate climate change.

Although over a quarter of all 2014-2020 EU agricultural spending – more than €100 billion – was earmarked for climate change, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have not decreased since 2010. This is because most measures supported by the CAP have a low climate-mitigation potential, and the CAP does not incentivise the use of effective climate-friendly practices.

The auditors examined whether the 2014-2020 CAP supported climate mitigation practices with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from three key sources: livestock, chemical fertilisers and manure, and land use (cropland and grassland). They also analysed whether the CAP incentivised the uptake of effective mitigation practices better in the 2014-2020 period than it did in the 2007-2013 period.

Main findings
Livestock emissions
represent around half of emissions from agriculture; they have not decreased since 2010. These emissions are directly linked to the size of the livestock herd, and cattle cause two thirds of them. The share of emissions attributable to livestock rises further if the emissions from the production of animal feed (including imports) is taken into account.  However, the CAP does not seek to limit livestock numbers; nor does it provide incentives to reduce them. CAP market measures include the promotion of animal products, consumption of which has not decreased since 2014; this contributes to maintaining greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them.

Emissions from chemical fertilisers and manure, which account for almost a third of agricultural emissions, increased between 2010 and 2018. The CAP has supported practices that may reduce the use of fertilisers, such as organic farming and cultivating grain legumes. However, these practices have an unclear impact on greenhouse gas emissions, according to the auditors. Instead, practices that are demonstrably more effective, such as precision farming methods that match fertiliser applications to crop needs, received little funding.

The CAP supports climate-unfriendly practices, for example by paying farmers who cultivate drained peatlands, which represent less than 2 % of EU farmland but which emit 20 % of EU agricultural greenhouse gases. Rural development funds could have been used for the restoration of these peatlands, but this was rarely done. Support under the CAP for carbon sequestration measures such as afforestation, agroforestry and the conversion of arable land to grassland has not increased compared to the 2007-2013 period. EU law does not currently apply a polluter-pays principle to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

The report found that CAP does not seek to limit or reduce livestock (which account for 50 % of agriculture emissions) and supports farmers who cultivate drained peatlands (which account for 20 % of emissions).  The report also found that although the greening scheme was supposed to enhance the environmental performance of the CAP, it did not incentivise farmers to adopt effective climate-friendly measures, and its impact on climate has been only marginal.

In relation to Ireland the ECA found that:

Ireland is one of three EU member states in the report that have seen substantial emissions increases from livestock.

Ireland is also one of four countries that obtained a derogation from the Nitrates Directive on the limit of applied manure. These four countries are among the highest greenhouse gas emitters per hectare of utilised agricultural area.  Since 2014, in Ireland, the area under derogation under the Nitrates Directive has increased by 34 % and the number of animals in farms with derogations grew by 38 %. In the same period, emissions from chemical fertilisers increased by 20 %, emissions from manure applied to soils by 6 % and indirect emissions from leaching and run-off by 12 %.


The ECA recommends that the Commission takes action so that the CAP reduces emissions from agriculture; takes steps to reduce emissions from cultivated drained organic soils; and reports regularly on the contribution of the CAP to climate mitigation.  The ECA also recommends that the new Common Agricultural Policy should have a greater focus on reducing agricultural emissions, and be more accountable and transparent about its contribution to climate mitigation

Policy proposals for Ireland

This report shows that clearly there is much room for improvement in policy coherence between climate and agricultural policies.  Ireland and Europe have significant work to do in this regard.  We must move away from the existing approach whereby the targets in our agricultural and food strategies serve to undermine the targets in our environmental policies.   As Ireland is currently involved in the next round of CAP 2021-2027 negotiations, Social Justice Ireland believes that it is important that the findings of the ECA Special Report are taken into consideration and that priority is given to the following areas:

  • A minimum of 40 per cent of the CAP budget and 30 per cent of the Maritime Fisheries budget are to contribute to climate action.  National plans for agriculture must fully reflect the ambition of the Green Deal and Farm-to-Fork strategy.
  • In order to fulfil the objectives of Pillar II of CAP on rural development and environmental protection then a greater proportion of the budget must be given to these measures.
  • There must also be a more coherent policy focus and looking at areas of market failure in terms of services provision that the state must address, and what the LEADER programme can support.
  • The next round of CAP funding must be aligned with ‘Our Rural Future’ and the ambitions stated in the Programme for Government to move to a more sustainable economic model, balanced regional development and carbon neutrality.
  • Ireland should adopt a sustainable land management approach to reward sustainable forms of agriculture.
  • The refocusing of the CAP budget to climate action presents an opportunity for farmers to invest in sustainable forms of agriculture and the Farm-to-Fork Strategy has the potential to deliver on short supply chains for farmers, and address some of the issues of product pricing for Irish farmers.