European Union

Making policy for climate’s sake

Europe is the land where climate policy has been explicit. Seeking to lead the world in terms of climate mitigation policy, it has integrated policy across many, varied states, and its nations have developed and implemented ambitious policies of their own. The challenge in Europe is to continue providing leadership in the face of an economic crisis, while accounting for national differences in outlook and policy.


These graphs show the changes in emissions, emissions drivers, and policy in the Agriculture sector in the EU


Emissions Agricultural emissions in the EU27

Emissions have declined since 1990, despite a slight increase in agricultural production.


    Emissions Drivers Contribution of agricultural emissions drivers to changes in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in EU27 (Methane)

    Methane emissions from livestock declined as the number of cattle decreased.


      Policy Nitrate vulnerable zones

      Most agricultural policy in Europe was developed for reasons beyond climate protection. Nevertheless, these policies had a very real impact on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the Nitrates Directive encouraged decreasing levels of nitrate fertilizer application, thus reducing NOx emissions.

        • Major agricultural policy reforms cut commodity price supports and required agricultural land set-asides in the 1990s. Agricultural output suffered in Eastern Europe as the region transitioned to the EU. Cropland area and cattle numbers declined steadily over the decade while fertilizer rates dropped and then increased again.

          • Policy Barriers

            • 1992 Common Agricultural Policy reforms to reduce commodity prices (EEC 1992)
              Shifted emphasis from commodity price support (cut support for cereal by 35% and beef by 15%) to direct support to farmers based on farm production (EC 2012)
              Targeted production capacity reduction
              Compulsory but compensated set-aside of 15% arable land
              Environmental and affiorestation measures
            • Designated Nitrate Vulnerable Zones
              Required compulsory programs to limit fertilizer application in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and establish voluntary good farming practices
              Comprehensive implementation by some Member States
            • Milk Quota extended through 1990s: a levy was due on excess dairy produce
          • Underlying changes

            • Total EU cropland slightly decreased, number of farms decreased, and average farm size increased (EEA 2011, EEC 2011)
            • Synthetic fertilizer application rate decreased in early 1990s followed by an increase in the late 1990s (EEA 2011)
            • Significant fall in Eastern European agricultural output (IAMO 2007)
            • Steady decline in number of cattle (particularly dairy) as dairy productivity showed sustained strong increases
        • Europe continued agricultural reforms throughout the decade, further cutting price supports, fully decoupling farm support from production, and making support contingent on compliance with environmental requirements. Biofuels were required to be incorporated into the fuel supply. Cropland, cattle numbers, and fertilizer rates all decreased.

          • Policy Barriers

            • Multiple rounds of Common Agricultural Policy reform
              2000 (EC 1999)
              Further move to direct support, phasing in price support cuts (cereals by 15%, beef by 20%)
              Introduced agri-environmental payments
              Compulsory arable land set-aside revised to 10% (2000-2006)
              2003 (EC 2003)
              Single Payment Scheme (SPS): direct income support to farms decoupled from production
              Cross Compliance: SPS payment contingent on compliance
              with environmental and animal welfare requirements
              No significant decrease in pasture land
              2008 “Health Check” (EC 2008)
              Further price support decreases
              Arable land compulsory set-aside repealed
            • Increasing biofuels policy over decade
              Mandated that biofuels make up 2.5% and 5.75% of transportation fuel use by 2005 and 2010, respectively (2003/30/EC)
              Updated biofuels mandates to require greenhouse gas emissions reductions from biofuels in next decade (2009/28/EC, 2009/30/EC)
            • Milk Quota extended through 2000—program to end in 2015
          • Underlying changes

            • 2007-2008 global food price crisis—world food prices for several major commodities rose by over 100% from 2006-2008
            • High oil prices and increased fertilizer costs
            • Decreasing fertilizer application rates across decade (EEA 2011)
            • Agricultural output of Eastern European countries recovered at varying levels (IAMO 2007)
            • Continued steady decline in number of cattle and sustained increases in productivity