The European Union Committee of the House of Lords considers EU documents and other matters relating to the EU in advance of decisions being taken on them in Brussels. It does this in order to influence the Governments position in negotiations, and to hold them to account for their actions at EU level.
A report, Adapting to climate change: EU agriculture and forestry looks into the European Commissions April 2009 White Paper on adapting to climate change and was published on March 30th. The Committees Chairman, Lord Carter of Coles, spoke to Footprint about some of its findings.
Q: HMGs position on climate change has been heavily influenced by the Stern review of 2006, which appeared to use as its base many of the more extreme elements of the IPCCs Climate Change 2007 report. As one of the key statistical sources for this report, the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University, is itself under review. Does this make the White Paper and your Committees subsequent recommendations more about food security in the face of a growing population than of climate change?
LC: The Committee was of course aware of the arguments about some of the scientific data used as evidence of climate change. However, our report refers to a joint statement issued in November 2009 by the Met Office, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society, which emphasised that there had been a strengthening since 2007 in the scientific evidence of dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change. So the need for agriculture to adapt to climate change is at the heart of the report, while we also acknowledge that such change is expected in a world whose total population is projected to increase to 9 billion by 2050.
Q: UK forestry represents under 12% of UK landmass, whereas in the EU as a whole the equivalent figure is 42%. Given that the report sees the need for the CAP in future to support the sustainable intensification of agriculture, do you see a time when this comparably small area is reduced further as part of an EU obligation to do ones bit when it comes to creating more agricultural land from forestry?
LC: We were not able to deal as extensively with forestry issues in our report as we could with agriculture, not least because the European Commission documents of April 2009 that we looked at had relatively little detail about forestry. The Commission has just published a Green Paper on Forestry (in March 2010), but this came too late for our report. But the sustainable intensification of agriculture does not necessarily imply that woodland has to be turned into farmland the objective is that the productive output of farming should be increased, in an environmentally responsible way, without increasing the extent of land used.
Q: With increasing populations and associated food shortages, is it only a matter of time before biotechnology and, in particular, GM food production becomes the norm within EEC and, if so, do you see this form of production being restricted to the southern member countries where the need may be greatest or an EU wide adoption?
LC: We took interesting evidence on this issue. I think that what came across was the view that bio-technology may well offer solutions to some problems that may be caused by climate change (for example, the development of crops that are drought-resistant) but, equally, that such technology is only one item in the tool-box that will be needed to respond to climate change across the EU.
Q: Water availability and usage is something that impacts some Member states more than others but it is clear that regulation will be necessary across the Community in the not too distant future. What form do you see this regulation taking when it comes to UK agriculture concerns and do you see it adding dramatically to supply chain costs?
LC: Yes, the evidence that we received suggested that climate change impacts, notably water shortages, will affect southern EU countries particularly severely. However, we were also told by the Environment Agency that by about 2050 overall water availability in England and Wales would probably be some 15% less than at present, with a general trend of wetter winters and drier summers. We raised the issue of regulation with the Agency. They said that they preferred voluntary action wherever possible, but they stressed that regulation would have its part to play, not least in relation to water abstraction. Our report does not go much beyond that. But it seems inevitable that, if a key resource like water becomes less plentiful, use of it will be subject to greater control, and there may well be cost implications.
Q: One of the reports recommendations is that the future CAP should not support agriculture in areas where climate change means that productive capacity can be maintained only at unacceptable environmental and economic cost. Where this happens in traditionally agricultural communities, what is suggested to replace the livelihood of those affected?
LC: In March 2008, the Committee published a report on the future of the
CAP. In that report, we recognised that many Member States rely on CAP funds to secure social policy goals, but we said that many of the problems being addressed needed to be tackled in their own right.
We suggested, for example, that structural problems in rural areas would be better tackled through other EU programmes, such as the Structural Funds. These views underlie our latest report: the CAP should support environmentally sustainable agriculture, but the use of other EU funds should be considered if social policy goals are being pursued.
Q: Is the EAFRD an example of how the scientific issues of global warming are confused with the social and often corporate angles of the issues?
LC: The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development supports measures serving several aims: improving the competitiveness of the farming and forestry industry; promoting environmental and land-management schemes; and improving the quality of life and the diversification of the rural economy. Clearly, environmental schemes can, and should, deal with responses to climate change, and diversification measures may have both a social and an economic dimension. The CAP has a complicated history but, as one of witnesses commented, there has been a continuous process to reform the CAP since the beginning of the 1990s. Our report contributes to the debate about further reform.
Q: Do you feel British Agriculture has a more enlightened view on climate change than its European counter parts?
LC: We took evidence from representatives of the UKs National Farmers Unions and of the Country Land and Business Association for our inquiry and we were left in no doubt that those organisations have been giving a good deal of thought to the issues of climate change for some time, and have been working closely with their members to get their messages across. I would not want to comment on whether the agricultural sector in other parts of the EU is less up to speed on these issues. But what we do say in our report is that farmers across the EU, including in this country, need advice and guidance on putting knowledge about climate change responses into practice and that is a message for the European Commission and national governments, as much as for farmers and their representative organisations.
Q: Environmental climate or Economic climate: which do you feel is exercising the greater strain on the Agriculture and Forestry industries?
LC: Bear in mind that our report looks across the EU, and not just at the UK. We heard about the climatic problems already affecting southern EU states, notably water shortages which have major implications for irrigation practices, and which have also contributed to the outbreak of fires that have destroyed woodland, for example in Greece. On the other hand, it is also true that the changing climate offers positive economic opportunities for agriculture in some parts of Europe. All I would say, therefore, is that the answer to your question will vary according to which part of the EU you look at.
Q: Hilkka Summa, DG Agriculture of the European Commission, said that the take- up of climate change specific measures was not as good as we had hoped for. Why does an industry, arguably one of the environmentally most impacting, seem so slow to grasp the issues?
LC: Ms Summa was referring to funding made available through the rural development programme, and in this case it is national governments across the EU which ultimately decide how to allocate funding so they, rather than the industry, have been responsible for the take-up rate. On the figures made available by the European Commission, as much money was allocated to re-structuring of the dairy industry as to climate change measures. So it may be fair to say that, while there is a good awareness of climate change issues in agriculture, other issues affecting the sector make equally strong demands on the attention of governments and others concerned with the state of agriculture.
Q: The EUC considers EU documents in advance of decisions being taken in Brussels in order to influence HMGs position in negotiations prior to legislation. With the appointment of French or French friendly politicians to key positions when it comes to European Agricultural policy, would you say that Britains influence is diminished in this area and, if so, what is the likely impact of the EUCs recommendations to the government?
LC: I dont wish to be drawn into a discussion of whether the nationality of European Commissioners is relevant to the directions in which they take the policies with which they deal. We look forward to working with the new Agriculture Commissioner, Mr Ciolo, who has a very strong academic, professional and political background in agriculture. But what I would say is what we say in the report. Discussions are already underway on the shape of the CAP after 2013. The UK Government should participate constructively in this debate, and promote full and early discussion among all interested parties in the UK. That is a key recommendation in our report, and the Government will have to respond to it.