Europe and Central Asia
18 Apr 2018

Crunch time for saving environment on farmland

By Harriet Bradley

As the debate on the next EU budget draws to a close, will Budget Commissioner Oettinger dedicate enough to the environment and climate in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to avert disaster?

Biodiversity is in freefall in Europe. Stories of the collapse of insects and birds, mostly related to intensive agriculture, have been hitting the headlines from Germany to Ireland, to France. 76% of insects have been lost in Germany in a generation, and 30% of farmland birds in France in just 15 years. These stories provide an urgent, much-needed wake up call to the severity of the situation we are in.

Biodiversity loss and climate change are now recognised by scientists and political commentators as the two ‘planetary boundaries’ that require urgent action, with intensive farming at the heart of the problem.[1] The most recent report of the UN body of scientists (IPBES) working on biodiversity loss concluded that Land-use change is the major direct driver of the loss of both biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe and Central Asia.’[2]

The intensive farming model is not just harming biodiversity, with its severe pressures from farming on water, soils and serious greenhouse gas emissions. The problems go both ways—declining pollinators, natural predators, the erosion of soils and the exhaustion of water resources also pose an existential threat to long term food production and farmers’ livelihoods.

Now is the moment for those with power to put their (our) money where their mouth is. The post-2020 EU budget, now reaching its final negotiations within the European Commission, is the opportunity to make a major step towards turning this situation around.

It is clear that such sums must come from CAP funds, which represent nearly 40% of the current EU Budget, compared to the miniscule dedicated environmental and climate fund, LIFE, which represents just 0.3%.

Birdlife Europe, along with the European Environmental Bureau, Greenpeace, and WWF, sent a joint letter to Budget Commissioner Oettinger calling for 50% of the total future CAP budget to be legally ring-fenced for climate and environmental measures. Within this, 15bn Euros per year need to be dedicated to biodiversity spending. This is the amount estimated to achieve proper implementation of the EU’s nature conservation laws, which the EU is legally obligated to fund. Anything else will not do: three rounds of CAP reform have shown that the CAP has failed to deliver through ‘soft ring-fencing’.

80% of CAP payments currently go to just 20% of recipients, with most “income support” channelled to the richest beneficiaries. Rather than spending public money on propping up the incomes of the wealthy, it would be better spent supporting farmers to deliver public goods and to transition from a dead-end agricultural model to a sustainable one. Only then can the EU address the existential threats facing the agriculture and delivering on the environmental and climate goals of the EU as demanded by EU citizens.


Harriet Bradley - EU Agriculture & Bioenergy Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

[2] IPBES, 2018, ‘Summary for policymakers of the regional assessment of biodiversity

and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia’, Unedited advance version (28 March 2018),


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