Indicator Assessment

Emission intensity of agriculture in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-358-en
  Also known as: WREI 001
Published 24 Feb 2014 Last modified 11 May 2021
18 min read
This page was archived on 10 Feb 2021 with reason: Other (Discontinued indicator)

Nitrogen emission to water: Absolute decoupling of nitrogen emissions from GVA is observed in seven countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia ). This means that these countries succeeded in economy growth while reducing emissions to water. As the area of agriculture land remained constant during the analyzed period, the decrease in emission can be attributed to decrease in specific gross nutrient balance per hectare.

Relative decoupling was observed in the Czech Republic, and Poland. This means that the resource efficiency has increased, however with higher absolute emissions.  Decreases in emissions coupled with a decrease in GVA occurred in 11 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In six out of those 11 countries, the rate of emission decrease was greater than the rate of the GVA decrease.

Phosphorus emission to water: Absolute decoupling of phosphorus emissions from the GVA is observed in five countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Slovenia). Decrease in emission coupled with decrease in GVA occurred in ten countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In all these countries except Denmark, the rate of emission decrease was greater than the rate of the decrease of GVA.

The ranges of nutrient emission intensity of agriculture are quite wide and reflect varieties of agriculture practices across European countries.

Values of nitrogen emission intensity for 2008 range from 6,0 to 176 tons of total nitrogen per million EUR GVA per year. Significant decrease in nitrogen emission intensity between 2000 and 2008 was recorded in Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In 2008 Bulgaria, Portugal and Romania reported (in Eurostat) the lowest values of the specific nitrogen balance per hectare. In creased emission intensity was observed in Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom, however, this was due to a falling GVA not to emissions, which actually were reduced. Calculation of emission intensity based on GVA diminished by subsidies, which reflects better the actual economic performance from  agriculture, result in much higher emission intensities for countries, e.g.,  Norway, Finland , Lithuania and Poland with relatively high contributions from subsidies to the economy.. The increment in emission intensity associated with excluding subsidies is significant namely in Norway (106 t/mio EUR/y) and Finland (38,8 t/mio EUR/y).

The 2008 values for total phosphorus emission intensity range from 0,47 to 13,03 tons per million EUR GVA per year. Significant decrease in the phosphorus emission intensity (decrease by more than 50%) over the last decade was recorded in nine countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech republic, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia). Moreover, Austria, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal, reported (Eurostat) the lowest values of the specific phosphorus balance per hectare comparable to the EU-27 average, being 1 kg of total phosphorus per hectare per year. The impact of subsidies on phosphorus emission intensity (based on 2008 data), was most significant in Norway and Finland, where the increment in emission intensity associated with excluding subsidies accounted for 16,24 and 3,49 t/mio EUR/y respectively , whereas the increment in remaining countries did not exceed 1 t/mio EUR/y.

Subsidies: The analysis of subsidies on the output of the agricultural industry for the studied years showed that 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia and the United Kingdom) reduced the proportion of subsidies in relation to the GVA of their agricultural sector between 2000 and 2008. On the other hand, 5 countries (Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) increased this proportion during the same period. Information was incomplete for Bulgaria and Germany, where subsidy levels for years 2000 and 2008 respectively were reported as zero (Eurostat). Noteworthy is the sharp increase in the proportion of subsidies as part of GVA  (being in the range between 12-26 % of GVA) in new Member States like Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia accompanied by the increase of GVA values. And, on the other hand, the significant reductions in old Member States like Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Given the multiple factors that affect both the change in sectoral GVA and in nutrient balance, it is complicated to draw direct relationships between these two variables. Some key descriptors which could aid in explaining the behavior of these are the structure of the sector (e.g. farm size, standard gross margins, crop type, stocking rate), the socioeconomic characteristics of the area (e.g. rural population, income and employment levels) and the policy measures in place (e.g. subsidies). However, it must be noted that the specific context of each country could result in varying combinations of the mentioned factors and their aggregate effects.



This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

Changes in Nitrogen balance and GVA of agriculture

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Nitrogen emission intensity of agriculture

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Changes in Phosphorus balance and GVA of agriculture

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Phosphorus emission intensity of agriculture

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GVA at basic prices and subsidies to the agriculture normalized by GVA 2000

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With the sole exception of Austria, all the countries which exhibit a positive change in GVA from agriculture have joined the EU in either 2004 or 2007 (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia). This is, seven out of ten new MS which were included in the analyses experienced a positive development of their primary sector between 2000 and 2008. Here, the multiple impacts of the transition to a market-based economy and the accession to the EU in less than two decades should be noted. One of these impacts is the rise on the prices of agricultural goods in domestic and foreign markets, while intermediate costs remained stable and were supported by rearrangements in other sectors, thus increasing the added value of agricultural activities. Additionally, the increasing subsidy levels resulting from accession to the EU also plays a significant role. Furthermore, the gradual cutback on restrictions to EU markets and the preparations required for the integration into the regional bloc could have promoted the positive trends shown. The case of Romania, which showed the second highest increase in GVA and the second highest reduction in its nitrogen balance, exhibits an agricultural sector characterised by small-scale farming and low cattle stocking rates set up in a country with a highly rural population and thus a potentially sizeable workforce for the sector. Here, farms smaller than 5 ha. made up 93% of the country’s rural area between 2002 and 2004. Although declining, as of 2007, 20% of the country’s population remained employed in the rural areas (Hubbard and Hubbard, 2008) [1]. In addition to this, the economic transition recently undergone by the country resulted in a significant reduction of intensive cattle farming (MARD, 2007) [2], which is commonly identified as the second major source of nitrogen emissions from agriculture in the EU (Pau Vall and Vidal, 1999) [3].

Finally, distinguishing the proportion of GVA that is represented by subsidies on the output of the agricultural industry helps to visualize to what extent decoupling (absolute or relative) may be affected by rising or falling subsidy levels. Furthermore, including these figures into the calculation of emission intensities sheds light on how the individual developments in agricultural subsidy policy may impact the nutrient emission intensity figures for each MS. For instance, changes stemming from events like the reform of the agricultural policy in Europe – namely the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – and the way that compliance to its provisions affects old and new MS in different ways have influenced a dynamic behaviour of the subsidy-to-GVA ratio during the appointed period. Consequently, these changes should be taken into consideration when analysing nutrient emission intensity indicators.



References in key assessment text

  1. Pau Vall, M., Vidal, C. (1999) Nitrogen in Agriculture. In: Agriculture, Environment, Rural Development: Facts and Figures - A Challenge for Agriculture
  2. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (2007) National Rural Development Programme 2007-2013. Government of Romania.
  3. Hubbard, C. and Hubbard, L. (2008) Bulgaria and Romania: Paths to EU Accession and the Agricultural Sector. Centre for Rural Economy Discussion Paper Series, No. 17, July 2008.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

The indicator is used to illustrate decoupling of economic growth (Gross Value Added-GVA) from the environmental impact (nutrient losses).The indicator displays the percentage of change in emission of nutrients from agriculture  (expressed as nutrient balance) plotted together with the change in the gross value added (GVA) of the agriculture industry over the same period of time (between 2000-2011). Absolute decoupling occurs when the environmentally relevant variable is stable or decreasing while the economic driving force is growing. Relative decoupling occurs when the growth rate of the emission is positive, but less than the growth rate of the GVA.

Furthermore, the indicator illustrates emission intensity of the agriculture sector expressed as the amount of nutrient balance in agriculture per unit of production of the agriculture sector (expressed as one million Euro of gross value added). The indicator illustrates both emission intensity based on total GVA (which includes subsidies) and emission intensity based on GVA, excluding subsidies.


Changes in nutrient emissions from agriculture (nutrient balance) between 2000-2011 (separately for nitrogen and phosphorus) are expressed in %, where the values recorded in 2000 represent 100%. Changes in GVA generated by the agriculture sector between 2000-2011 are expressed in %, where the values recorded in 2000 represent 100%.

Emission intensity is expressed in tonnes of pollutant per one million EURO of GVA.


Policy context and targets

Context description

In March 2010, the European Commission issued the European Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth ‘Europe 2020 strategy’ (5). It highlights – among others - the need of a more resource efficient economy. The “Flagship initiative” under the Europe 2020 strategy, called “A resource efficient Europe” (6), establishes resource efficiency as the guiding principle for EU policies on energy, transport, climate change, industry, commodities, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development. The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (2) defines medium and long term objectives to achieve efficient resource use in the region. Decoupling, in the sense of breaking the linkage between economic growth and resource use, is a central
concept of the strategy for making Europe resource efficient. The 2050 vision and objectives by 2020 are to be addressed in the sector initiatives that shall contribute to the resource-efficient Europe Flagship Initiative (among others e.g. the 7th EU Environmental Action Programme or the revision of the Common Agriculture Policy).


EU wide targets related to sustainable agriculture and more specifically the nutrient emission intensity have not yet been set. Resource efficiency strategic documents e.g. The “Flagship initiative” (6) presents a rather general objective of substantial growth of agricultural production without exerting more pressure on environment. 

According to the EEA Report “Resource efficiency in Europe”(7) specific national targets related to resource efficiency in agriculture have been set in 5 MS (AT, BG, CY, DK, FR). They relate mostly to the increase of share of ecologically or organically farmed areas. Specific targets on emissions of nutrients from agriculture have been
set only in Denmark :

  • Reduce the release of nitrogen from agriculture by 19,000 tonnes by 2015 and reduce it further by 2020.
  • Reduce the release of phosphorous from agriculture by 210 tonnes by 2015


Related policy documents

  • A resource efficient Europe-flagship initiative under the Europe 2020 strategy
    The flagship initiative for a resource-efficient Europe under the Europe 2020 strategy supports the shift towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy to achieve sustainable growth. The flagship initiative for a resource-efficient Europe provides a long-term framework for actions in many policy areas, supporting policy agendas for climate change, energy, transport, industry, raw materials, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and regional development. This is to increase certainty for investment and innovation and to ensure that all relevant policies factor in resource efficiency in a balanced manner.
  • COM(2010) 2020 final, Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth
    European Commission, 2010. Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. COM(2010) 2020 final. 
  • Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth
    A Report of the UNEP Working Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel
  • European Waters – Assessment of Status and Presures
    This report's results present good and robust European overviews of the data reported by the first RBMPs, and of the ecological status and pressures affecting Europe's waters. Europe's waters are affected by several pressures, including water pollution, water scarcity and floods. Major modifications to water bodies also affect morphology and water flow. To maintain and improve the essential functions of our water ecosystems, we need to manage them well.
  • Resource efficiency in Europe — Policies and approaches in 31 EEA member and cooperating countries
    This report provides an overview of resource efficiency policies and instruments in 31 member and cooperating countries of the European Environment Agency network (Eionet). A detailed survey was conducted during the first half of 2011 to collect, analyse and disseminate information about national experiences in developing and implementing resource efficiency policies, and to facilitate sharing of experiences and good practice. The report reviews national approaches to resource efficiency and explores similarities and differences in policies, strategies, indicators and targets, policy drivers and institutional setup and information gaps. It concludes with some EEA considerations for future policies on resource efficiency which could be considered in developing future resource efficiency policies at the EU and country levels. The analysis is illustrated with short examples of policy initiatives in the countries, described in more detail in the country profile documents available below.
  • Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe COM(2011) 571
    Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.  COM(2011) 571  


Methodology for indicator calculation

The indicator displays changes in nutrient balance of agriculture between 2000 and 2011, plotted together with changes of Gross Value Added (basic prices) generated by the agricultural sector during the same period.

∆ Nutrient balance (N, or P) = [(Nutrient balance(2011)  /  Nutrient balance(2000) ) - 1]* 100%

Data used: Nutrient balance, values in tonnes/y, values for EU MS, for years 2000 and 2011

∆ GVA = [(GVA(2011)  /  GVA(2000) )- 1]* 100%

Data used: GVA, mi. EURO/y, values for EU MS, for years 2000 and 2011

Note: Only positive values of nutrient balances are considered in the  indicator .

GVA at basic prices is output at basic prices minus intermediate consumption at purchaser prices. The basic price is the amount receivable by the producer from the purchaser for a unit of a product minus any tax on the product plus any subsidy on the product. GVA figures at current prices are used in the calculation of this indicator to allow for the direct link and extraction of Eurostat data.

The figures on subsidies on products refers to the subsidies on the output of the agricultural industry.  Output of the agricultural industry is made up of the sum of the output of agricultural products, agricultural services and of the goods and services produced in inseparable non-agricultural secondary activities.”

Methodology for gap filling

Not relevant  for the current methodology.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

The concept of decoupling is attractive for its  simplicity. Charts illustrating increasing GVA together with decreasing emission load may lead to simplified conclusions. Synthetic decoupling indicators often convey mixed or double messages. In growing economy, relative decoupling will imply that environmental pressures are still rising. If economic activity is falling, relative or even absolute decoupling may not imply a positive development for society as whole. Relationship between economic driving forces and environmental pressures is complex. Most driving forces have multiple environmental effects, and most pressures are generated by multiple driving forces, that is why there is a need to use decoupling indicators within a more complex analytical framework.

Subsidies, that could bring a positive effect to the change in GVA of Member States which entered the EU after 2000, are not considered in the methodology used.

This indicator relates only to developments  within countries over time. Future indicator development may include also normalisation to area of arable land or produce expressed in metrics.

GVA reflects the growth of the entire agriculture industry, i.e. not only of  the crop production related sub-sector.

The estimation and use of GVA at constant prices is being considered for future versions of this indicator to show a fuller picture by elucidating the effects of inflation.


Data sets uncertainty

Not relevant

Rationale uncertainty

In "Indicators to measure decoupling of environmental pressure from economic growth", OECD, 2002

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • WREI 001
Frequency of updates
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage