Climate change adaptation is key to future of farming in Europe

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Article Published 16 Sep 2019 Last modified 11 May 2021
3 min read
Photo: © Kayhan Guc, Sustainably Yours/EEA
This past summer’s heatwaves and extreme weather events have broken new climate records in Europe once again reinforcing the importance of climate change adaptation. We sat down with Blaz Kurnik, a European Environment Agency (EEA) expert on climate change impacts and adaptation to discuss the EEA’s new report on how climate change is impacting agriculture in Europe which came out earlier this month.

The EEA's recent report paints quite a stark outlook for Europe's farmers. Can you explain more?

The report 'Climate change impacts and adaptation in the agricultural sector in Europe' looks at how climate change has affected the agriculture sector and provides an outlook for the years ahead. It is clear that projected climate change will negatively affect agriculture in many parts of Europe, especially the south. The report addresses part of the agriculture sector, notably crop yield and livestock and livestock commodities, and focuses on food and fodder production needs. It also provides an overview of the potential solutions offered by policies at various governance levels for adapting to climate change, namely through programmes and by presenting various adaptation measures at farm level.

How will climate change impact agriculture? Which parts of Europe will be the most affected?

Climate change has already negatively affected the agriculture sector in Europe and this will continue in the future. Changes in temperature and precipitation as well as weather and climate extremes are already influencing crop yields and livestock productivity in Europe. This can lead to abandonment of climate-disadvantaged farmlands in parts of southern Europe.

Weather and climate conditions also affect the availability of water needed for irrigation, livestock watering practices, processing of agricultural products, and transport and storage conditions. Future climate change might have some positive effects on the sector in short term due to longer growing seasons and more suitable crop conditions in parts of northern Europe, however, water scarcity, heat waves, heavy precipitation contributing to soil erosion and other weather and climate extremes are expected to result in lower agricultural yields.

Moreover, a cascade of impacts from climate change outside Europe may affect the price, quantity and quality of products, and consequently trade patterns, which in turn may affect agricultural income in Europe.

Is the agriculture sector more vulnerable to climate change than other sectors?

All economic sectors have been and will be affected by climate change. Agricultural production strongly depends on weather and climate conditions and this makes it one of the most vulnerable sectors. Changes in temperature and precipitation, as well as weather and climate extremes, influence crop yields and livestock productivity and in turn the agriculture income and cause significant economic losses in many European regions.

What does the report recommend, especially to farmers who want to make sure their farms remain viable and sustainable?

There are already many opportunities for implementing a wide variety of existing measures at farm level that aim to improve the management of soils and water, which can provide benefits for adaptation, mitigation, the environment and the economy. However, adaptation at the farm level, in many cases, has not yet taken place because of many reasons, such as lack of resources for investments, policy initiatives to adapt, institutional capacity and access to adaptation knowledge.

What has the European Union done so far in helping the sector and farmers to adapt?

The EU agriculture sector is regulated by EU policies, in particular the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The EU adaptation strategy, adopted in 2013 and evaluated in 2018, is a key EU‑level driver of adaptation. Both the strategy and the CAP have enabled adaptation actions in the agriculture sector. The new proposed common agricultural policy for 2021‑2027 has adaptation as a clear objective, which could lead to EU Member States having to increase their financing of adaptation measures in the sector.

Also, EU Member States have defined the agriculture sector as a priority in their national adaptation strategies or national adaptation plans. Typical adaptation measures at national or regional levels include awareness raising, practical measures to decrease the impacts and risks of extreme weather events, or risk‑sharing strategies, and developing and implementing infrastructure for irrigation and flood protection.

What is the EEA doing on climate change adaptation?

The EEA supports the development and implementation of climate change adaptation in Europe, the evaluation of EU policies and the development of long-term strategies to adapt to climate change and to reduce disaster risk by providing relevant information. We have published a number of reports on adaptation, including the assessment of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities in Europe, sectoral assessments on adaptation (energy, transport, and agriculture).

The agency also prepares assessments on national, regional and urban climate change strategies and action plans. Moreover, the EEA also maintains and manages the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT) with the European Commission.

Blaz Kurnik

EEA expert on climate change impacts and adaptation

Interview published in the September 2019 issue of the EEA Newsletter 03/2019



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