Talks on Agriculture and climate change

EU environment and agriculture ministers met in London in September to discuss how climate change will affect farming.

Ministers heard that 10% of EU greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, making it the second largest source after power generation. Emissions from the sector have fallen by around 6% since 1999, largely due to production shifting overseas.

Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boell told ministers that reforming common agricultural policy had already led to reductions and will continue. Further emission cuts are possible through measures such as changing fertiliser application.

Agriculture is also seen as an important carbon sink as forests and soils sequester carbon from the atmosphere. But the UK's Chief Scientist, Sir David King, warned ministers that recent research suggests that soils are less effective at this than previously thought (see p 17 ).

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett highlighted the contribution agriculture can make through the production of crops for biofuels and bioenergy.

EU initiatives like the biomass action plan due in October and the existing biofuels Directive are set to boost production, though the UK is lagging badly on biofuels (ENDS Report 367, p 38 ).

The other key strand of the summit was adaptation - or helping farmers and farming to cope with conditions resulting from climate change.

"Various regions in Europe will have to adapt to the consequences caused by climate change," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "In the coming decades, even if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we will be facing further increases and variations in our temperatures, precipitations and extreme weather events."

Ministers heard that while climate change is likely to expand the growing season and range of crops in northern Europe, it could spell disaster for farming in southern Europe. Professor Jacqueline McGlade, head of the European Environment Agency, painted a scenario where farming would have to be abandoned in the area.

Mr Dimas revealed that the next phase of the European climate change programme will place special emphasis on adaptation and reducing vulnerability to climate change.

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