Assessing Environmental Integration in EU Agriculture


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Farming has a strong impact on the environment in the European Union (EU), both in a negative and a positive sense. The common agricultural policy (CAP) is a major driver of the agricultural sector, and can therefore positively influence environmental management by farmers. This briefing investigates whether relevant policy measures are well-targeted from a biodiversity perspective. It builds on the results of a project on agri-environmental indicators for monitoring the integration of environmental concerns into EU agriculture policy (the IRENA operation (1)). Progressively, the CAP has incorporated a broad range of agri-environmental policy instruments. However, their impact generally depends on how effective implementation is at national level. Geographic analysis shows that the overlap between Natura 2000 areas and agri-environment schemes could be improved to achieve important environmental objectives. At this stage, more efforts in data collection and policy evaluation are required to fully assess the environmental effect of the CAP.

Agriculture and environment in the EU-15

The IRENA project describes the interface between agriculture and environment in the EU-15 on the basis of 35 agri-environment indicators. It shows that farming has a significant impact on soil and water resources. For example, agriculture is responsible for about 50 % of water use in southern Europe and contributes about 50 % of total nitrogen pollution in the rivers of the EU-15. It is also responsible for around 10 % of total greenhouse gas emissions and 94 % of ammonia emissions in the EU-15. On the other hand, agriculture can also represent a source of renewable energy, e.g. through the production of biogas or biodiesel. Furthermore, farming is very important for the maintenance of biodiversity and landscapes in Europe. Although intensive agriculture damages biodiversity, extensive farming practices can actually help to maintain biodiversity in Europe. This is evident from analysis of land use in the Natura 2000 protected area network in the EU-15 (see Figure 1). A significant share of habitats in these conservation sites, particularly in the Mediterranean and mountainous areas, depend on extensive farming practices. To maintain extensive farming systems in such areas, targeted policy support is often called for.

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