Europe and Central Asia
18 Feb 2020

We need money for nature: not lies about climate spending

By Jeremy Herry
Did you know that the Commission has been lying about its climate spending? A new study has revealed that there is much less climate spending in the current proposal for a new Common Agricultural Policy – a whole third of the EU budget – than the EU Commission claims.
That’s quite a big deal, given that we’re neck-deep in a climate and biodiversity crisis. We need a real EU Green Deal: we cannot afford greenwashing and underspending on these issues. In fact, we desperately need real money for nature – and we need it right now.
On 20th February, EU leaders will discuss the Union’s long-term budget, the so-called “Multiannual Financial Framework” – MFF for short. They will decide how much to spend on climate and biodiversity for the next seven years. In the current state of climate and biodiversity emergency, seven years is a very long time. Bear in mind that in the past 40 years alone, we have already wiped out 57% of farmland birds. Insects are doing even worse. At the moment, the EU spends money on the destruction of nature through harmful subsidies, and grossly underfunds nature protection. If we are locked into this perverse system for the next seven years, the consequences will be catastrophic.
The EU has promised to spend 25% of its next budget on climate action. The problem is, half of that money is meant to come from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - and that’s starting to smell fishy…because you can’t “fake it ‘til you make it” with nature.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the EU’s farm subsidies program. It counts for over one third of the EU budget, and is worth almost €60 billion. The bulk of this money (three quarters) goes to so called ‘income support’. Now get this: the Commission claims that 40% of farmers’ income support count as climate action. But that money is literally just income support – hardly any strings attached at all. It is not linked to climate or biodiversity action in the slightest. Any claim to the contrary is simply false.
To give an example: a farmer farming on drained peatland, which emits a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions, would still receive CAP subsidies, and 40% of that money would count as climate action. If there are cows on that land, which emit even more greenhouse gases, that would also count as climate action. It’s absurd!
Those who defend the current CAP say that if we want to do more for the environment, the CAP needs a bigger budget. This completely ignores the fact that a) much of the money is actually harming the environment, and b) the majority of the spending goes to “income support” for mega-farms: the more farmland you have, the more money you get. A whopping 80% of direct payments goes to only 20% of farmers. And if that wasn’t bad enough, one third of direct payments go to 1.5% of farmers. That’s around €14 billion in income support for 1.5%. How on Earth is that a good way for the Commission to spend our money? The only justification for the CAP to continue to receive so much public money is to switch to paying farmers for practices that benefit nature instead.
The problem with the Commission claiming that quasi-unconditional farmland subsidies count as climate action isn’t just that it’s false (though that’s a problem too). The wider problem, for our planet, is that this “creative accounting” allows them to claim their job is done: they can pretend they have reached their target of spending 25% of the budget on climate.
By pushing intensive agriculture, the CAP causes immense damage to nature, pollutes the water we drink and poisons the air we breathe. The CAP is a broken system in many ways: a recent New York Times investigation has exposed how the CAP is a danger to both nature and democracy.

We need money for nature now

In 2027, we simply will not have the luxury of reversing 7 more years of nature destruction. Tipping points will have been reached. Ecosystems will have vanished. That’s why we so desperately need money for nature now.
Specifically, we need €15 billion per year for nature from the CAP. That might sound like a lot – but compared to the CAP’s €60 billion, which is one third of the EU budget, it is not that much – especially when you consider that much of that money is just handed out to a very small number of people for doing nothing at all. On the ground, that €15 billion  means several things: payments for farmers to look after habitats such as biodiverse grasslands, peatlands and wetlands; landscape features like hedgerows; wildflower strips; payments for schemes that conserve specific threatened species; payments for monitoring and advice related to biodiversity measures – and much more. It is also crucial to stop spending money that hurts nature: the EU currently funds destructive farming and fishing practices, which, if we are trying to protect nature, is completely absurd. That’s why it makes so much sense for nature protection funding to come from the CAP: a whole lot of CAP money supports intensive agriculture, which is the greatest driver of biodiversity loss on the continent.
The MFF will be a test: we will see if EU leaders keep the promises they made to Europe’s citizens.
Nature is the material foundation on which everything else stands: our lives depend on nature’s survival. The clock is ticking: we live in a finite world, which our system is destroying at an alarming pace. The best time to act was yesterday. The second best time is now.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on the ECA section of this website are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.