The European Commission presented on 15 December its Communication on “Sustainable Carbon Cycles”, which was said to further the alignment of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with the Farm to Fork strategy’s objectives on climate and biodiversity.
European Green Deal: the Commission’s proposal to sustainably restore carbon cycles
The Communication sets out to reduce Europe’s reliance on fossil carbon and achieve legally binding commitment for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050. It specifically aims to:
- Address the issue of carbon removal from the atmosphere through industrial approaches and technological solutions.
- Increase carbon sequestration and storage, as well as to scale up carbon farming as a “business model for healthier ecosystems”.
- Develop “blue carbon initiatives” using nature-based solutions on coastal wetlands and regenerative aquaculture to “provide further benefits for ocean regeneration and oxygen production”.
Measures will include:
- Promoting carbon farming practices under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and other EU programmes such as LIFE and Horizon Europe’s “Soil Deal for Europe” research mission.
- Clear and reliable certification framework for carbon farming, allowing for developing voluntary carbon markets.
- Providing improved knowledge, data management and tailored advisory services to land managers, both on land and within blue carbon ecosystem.
Carbon farming practices and the CAP
The Communication clearly states that the new CAP must “play an important role in stimulating action and in creating the enabling conditions for emission reductions, particularly from cultivated drained organic soils, as well as for carbon sequestration”.
It also sees public funding under the CAP as key to “support the upscaling of carbon farming by funding the roll out of the practices, as well as for example by covering additional costs related to monitoring, reporting and verification”. And it provides for the CAP funding to also be used for advisory services, knowledge exchange or information actions for farmers and foresters, as they are deemed essential to the uptake of carbon farming.
Here are the public funding opportunities for carbon farming falling under the CAP, as described in the Communication:
- Eco-schemes and rural development agri-environment-climate measures or investments;
- The European Innovation Partnership for agricultural productivity and sustainability;
- Support to advisory services.
A real opportunity to restore soils and ecosystems, or yet another greenwashing attempt?
Can the Commission’s proposals achieve their goals? This is questionable. Several environmental NGOs have expressed doubts whether what is on paper can really reach the outlined objectives. Wijnand Stoefs, Carbon Market Watch’s policy officer says the Communication
“risks undermining the European Green Deal and the Climate Law as it would damage the environmental integrity of the EU’s climate targets.”
European Coordination Via Campesina representing small and medium scale producers reacted that carbon farming is actually paving the way for an unprecedented financialisation of agriculture, where farm income would be dependent on a speculative carbon market, setting the Commission on a path to cause even more climate and social damage. They call it a
“real disappointment that in this long-awaited communication within Von Der Leyen’s Presidency of the European Commission, there is no evidence of transition towards sustainability, food security and food sovereignty for the European agricultuaral system.”
NGOs also regret that the proposals package appears to compensate for the weak job done by the CAP in guaranteeing fair prices for producers working with nature to supply healthy food to consumers, instead of working hand in hand with the policy to achieve sustainable farming. This inability of the CAP to finance sustainable farming practices seems only reinforced by the Carbon Farming initiative, which proposes to create carbon markets to support income for producers.
Friends of the Earth Europe is also alarmed by the proposals as they can easily become the next corporate greenwashing exercise allowing agribusiness to offset their emissions instead of reducing them. Proposals focusing on carbon offsetting will not help combat climate change or the biodiversity crisis, neither will it help support rural areas and fair access to healthy food.