Climate Activists Protest EC to retract farming policy

Thousands of climate activists have added their names to a new campaign spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, asking the European Commission to retract a farming policy that they say would make it impossible to reach the EU’s climate goals. 

Climate Activists Protest EC to retract farming policy

By Catherine Bennett

The Swedish climate activists Greta Thunberg has called on her followers to sign an open letter to EU leaders after the European Parliament on Friday endorsed a proposal for a new farming policy across the bloc. 

The letter begins, “On Friday the 23rd of October, you let us down once again, in voting for a dirty deal, which betrays not only your commitments to the Paris Agreement, but also your commitments to justice and to democracy.”

The Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, sets out rules for farmers and agriculture across the European Union, and accounts for one third of the EU budget (€58.1 billion). The policy subsidises up to seven million farms across the EU. Current rules expire at the end of the year. 

From #VoteThisCAPDown to #WithdrawTheCAP

The #WithdrawTheCAP campaign comes after Thunberg and other climate activists urged the European Parliament to vote against the updated Common Agricultural Policy, flooding social media in the days preceding the vote with the hashtag #VoteThisCAPDown. 

But the new policy was adopted with an overwhelming share of the vote, and activists are now training their sights on the European Commission, which has the power to withdraw the new policy and send EU officials back to the drawing board. 

‘Ecological destruction’

Environmental protesters say that the new CAP “fuels ecological destruction”. The biodiversity and bird charity BirdLife has called it an “extinction machine”. Even Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski issued a cautious warning prior to negotiations, suggesting on 19 October that some of the proposals would not allow the EU to reach climate objectives. 

European finance ministers and the agri-industry lobby resisted the inclusion of compulsory participation in eco-schemes in the bill, which are green agricultural projects that would receive a significant portion of EU funds through the CAP.

Each European country would have to channel 20 percent of the money its farmers receive from the EU to these environmentally-friendly projects.

Campaigners say however that that promise doesn’t go far enough, and want to boost the percentage of farmers’ payments going to eco-schemes to 50 percent. 

“By putting targeted eco-schemes, programmes and also investments at the centre of this reform, we have assured a step towards a more sustainable and competitive agricultural sector,” said Ulrike Müller, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on CAP financing. 

Exploitable loopholes

But the draft policy has loopholes that countries can exploit. The current policy will stand for a further two-year transition period before the new policy comes in, meaning that the new ambitious eco-schemes will not launch until 2023.

Money that hasn’t been used towards environmentally-friendly projects within a set period of time won’t be carried over, but instead can then be put into non-green projects, with no environmental obligations.

Critics also say the CAP scales down current requirements to protect certain types of land and for farmers to keep a certain percentage of their land out of production. Greenpeace said the policy represented a “death sentence for small farms and nature”.

The European Parliament has stated that the new farm policy is greener than the current one, pointing out that the new CAP provides more financial aid to farms who use sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices. It also says sanctions would be increased for those who violate environmental standards. 

Environmental activists insist, however, that the European Parliament’s adoption of the new farm policy this week has now made the EU’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – as laid out by the 2015 Paris Agreement — impossible to attain.

Originally published at France 24