The environmental objectives of the future CAP

The future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will play a fundamental role in developing a fully sustainable agricultural sector that supports environmental care, climate change action and vibrant rural life while providing safe and high quality food for over 500 million consumers.

Investing, supporting and rewarding our farmers is crucial to protecting the environment and improving efficiency and financial reward. Increasing training and knowledge-transfer, restructuring and adapting farming practices, supporting better land management, adopting digitisation and technology is the future of food and farming.

The Green Architecture

Three of the nine future CAP objectives aim to enhance and improve our environmental and climate change actions and ambitions by:

  1. Contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as sustainable energy;
  2. Fostering sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air; and
  3. Contributing to the protection of biodiversity, enhanced ecosystem services and preservation of our habitats and landscapes.

Global Problem, Local Needs, Local Responses, Global Impact

The European Commission proposes to give member states the support, flexibility, evidence-based tools, and responsibility to be ambitious in tailoring the design and funding of environmental and climate schemes. This will be done through enhanced conditionality and eco-schemes for income support and agri-environment-climate measures for rural development, in accordance with their local needs and conditions.

Enhanced ‘Conditionality’

Conditionality is an integral part of the future CAP framework and replaces ‘greening’ and cross-compliance of the current CAP. It sets the baseline for more ambitious and sustainable agricultural commitments through the adoption of good farming practices and standards by farmers. Conditionality links income support (and other area- and animal-based payments) to environment- and climate-friendly farming practices and standards known as ‘Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions’ (GAECs) and Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs). These practices and standards aim to deliver a higher level of environmental and climate action. The GAECs set standards for mitigating and adapting to climate change; addressing water challenges; soil protection and quality; land management; and protection and quality of biodiversity. There are a total of 10 GAECs in the future CAP, an extra 3 new GAECs compared to the current CAP.

Climate Change

  • GAEC 1 – Permanent pastures.
  • GAEC 2 – Preservation of carbon rich soils such as peatlands and wetlands (new).
  • GAEC 3 – Maintenance of soil organic matter through ban on burning stubble.

Water

  • GAEC 4 – Establishment of buffer strips along watercourses.
  • GAEC 5 – Compulsory use of the new Farm Sustainability Tool for Nutrients (new).

Soil Protection and Quality

  • AEC 6 – Minimum land management under tillage to reduce risk of soil degradation including on slopes.
  • GAEC 7 – No bare soil in most sensitive period.
  • GAEC 8 – crop rotation (replaces crop diversification).

Biodiversity and Landscape

  • GAEC 9 – Maintenance of non-productive features and areas including a minimum share of agricultural area devoted to non-productive features or areas, retention of landscape features, a ban on cutting hedges and trees during the bird breeding and nesting season, and as an option, measures for avoiding invasive plant species (replaces Ecological Focus Areas).
  • GAEC 10 – Ban on converting or ploughing permanent grassland in Natura 2000 sites (new).

The SMRs link the CAP to wider EU legislation that governs the environment, public health, animal health, plant health and animal welfare.  The number of SMRs in the future CAP has increased and include requirements to respect obligations under the ‘Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora Directive’; ‘Conservation of wild birds Directive’; ‘Nitrates Directive’; and elements of both the ‘Water Framework Directive’; and ‘Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive’.

Conditionality will be mandatory for both member states to implement and for those receiving direct payments to comply with. Member states will define a national standard for each of the EU-standards (GAECs and SMRs), detailing implementation, and tailoring them based on their specific local needs and characteristics (e.g. soil, climatic and farming conditions, land use, crop rotation, farming practices and farm structures). The environmental and climate delivery framework of the GAEC can be further enhanced by defining additional national standards. To encourage and reward member states who meet their environmental and climate performance targets the European Commission is offering a 5% performance bonus based on the country’s allocated funding for 2017.

Eco-schemes

The future CAP incorporates a new and innovative system, known as ‘eco-schemes’, to increase national environmental and climate-care action based on local needs and circumstances.  It is mandatory for member states to design and offer one or more eco-schemes. They are however voluntary for farmers to join. The eco-schemes involve an annual ‘one-year-at-a-time’ commitment making them flexible and attractive for farmers to continue in those schemes that worked best for them and ceasing those that did not. The eco-schemes present a unique opportunity for member states to heavily invest, incentivise, and reward their farmers for going beyond the mandatory and baseline requirements of conditionality and enhance environmental and climate performance based on local needs and conditions.

As the eco-schemes are funded from the national direct payment budget, member states can ensure the schemes accurately match the particular needs of their local environment and farmers. Payments are based on an annual payment per eligible hectare and could be offered as “top-up” to farmers’ direct payments or as stand-alone schemes with payments based on income losses and extra costs incurred by farmers. The schemes could also include ‘entry-level’ schemes, which could be expanded and enhanced through ambitious rural development measures. Member states may design eco-schemes for agricultural practices such as enhanced management of permanent pastures and landscapes, nutrient management, food and nesting packages for pollinating species, agro-ecology and organic farming.

Agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs)

The AECMs of the future CAP are designed to ensure best environmental and climate practices under the Rural Development framework. They aim to restore, preserve and enhance ecosystems; promote resource efficiency; and move towards a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. It is important to ensure the types of interventions put in place support specific national, regional, and local needs and, in certain cases, can build on those funded in the eco-schemes. AECM interventions could include: environmentally friendly production systems such as agroecology and agroforestry; forest environmental and climate services; forestry conservation and resilience based on native species; precision farming methods; organic farming; renewable energy and the bio-economy; animal welfare; and sustainable use and development of genetic resources.

As with the eco-schemes, the AECMs are mandatory for Member states to offer and design but are voluntary for farmers and beneficiaries to join. Member states will be required to commit at least 30% of their rural development budget to support environment and climate change action. Member states can enhance this spending by transferring up to 15% of their income support and market measures funding to the rural development one or by national co-financing. Payments are granted to those who voluntarily go beyond baselines mandatory standards to maximise actions for climate change, and protect water quality and availability, air quality, soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem services.

Farm Advisory Services

The Farm Advisory Services (FAS) is fundamental to the new green architecture of the future CAP. It will play a vital role in providing advice and guidance and sharing knowledge and expertise with farmers and beneficiaries. It will not only help to raise awareness and promote the relationship between farm and land management, but also, help farmers in putting the necessary environmental and climatic practices and standards in place (e.g. water, pesticides, air, antimicrobial resistance, risk management, digitisation). It is mandatory for Member States to make a FAS system available to farmers and beneficiaries and deliver up-to-date technological and scientific information.

New Way of Working

The new Delivery Model of the future CAP is focussed on Performance & Results. Member states will design their CAP Strategic Plan to achieve the EU common environmental and climate change objectives, setting quantified targets and taking specific local needs and conditions into consideration. The CAP Strategic Plan must be consistent with the EU-wide objectives, maintain commonality of the policy, and not distort or burden the single market. Consultation of national bodies, stakeholders, academia, the farming community, and citizens will help identify local environment and climate challenges and develop performance-based measures to address them. Once the plan meets the EU objectives and conditions, the European Commission will approve it.

A new annual monitoring and reviewing framework requires member states to monitor their progress against their targets, adjusting their plan where necessary, and submitting an annual Performance Report. The European Commission will review and make recommendations if necessary. For serious underperformance, the European Commission will suspend payments and work with the member state to help achieve the target. This new approach gives member states the freedom, flexibility, and responsibility to tailor and adapt their approach to local conditions and to show a greater level of ambition to care for the environment and climate.

Innovation and investments for a smart, digital and resilient agricultural sector

Digitisation, innovation, and knowledge are essential ingredients to optimise farming practices (e.g. precision agriculture) and improve environmental and climate-care performance. A specific budget of €10 billion from the Horizon Europe programme will be set aside for research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bio-economy. The agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI) will continue to support locally-led collaborative projects to foster competitive and sustainable farming and forestry.Farmers are said to be the ‘guardians of the environment’. The future CAP proposal supports the member states and their guardians by providing them a flexible policy framework, financial support, evidence-based tools, and the responsibility to achieve a higher level of environmental and climate ambition and address European citizens’ expectations for their health, the environment and ecosystems, and the climate.