Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in Europe

Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU agriculture sector are covered by national annual emissions targets. Between 2005 and 2019, agricultural emissions remained stable. Based on national projections, only a modest EU-level decline of 2% is expected by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. If currently planned additional measures are implemented, a 5% reduction is expected. These projected declines would be insufficient to meet most Member States’ binding annual targets, highlighting the need for further action if the EU is to meet its goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

Published: ‒ 25min read

The European Green Deal sets out the EU’s ambition to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. Key to this is reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including from agriculture. Agricultural GHG emissions are covered by the EU Effort Sharing Decision (ESD) and Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), which set annual targets for each Member State for the periods 2013-2020 and 2021-2030, respectively . Emissions from transport, buildings and waste are also covered by national ESD and ESR targets, which collectively aim to reduce total EU emissions from the sectors covered by around 10% by 2020 and 30% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

CH4 emissions from enteric fermentation and N2O emissions from soils are responsible for more than 80% of total agricultural GHG emissions. CH4 from manure management is the third most important source of emissions, accounting for about 10%. The remaining sources make relatively small contributions, accounting for less than 10% of agricultural GHG emissions in total.

Between 2005 and 2019, the EU’s agricultural GHG emissions changed very little, and this trend is expected to continue, with Member State projections indicating that there will be only a modest 2% decline in agricultural GHG emissions by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. If additional measures currently planned by Member States are implemented, this would increase to a decline of 5%.

Based on these projected reductions in agricultural emissions, Member States will have to achieve much greater reductions in other ESR sectors if they are to meet national targets. A European Commission impact assessment highlights the challenges in further reducing non-CO2 GHG emissions from agriculture . Measures commonly supported by the common agricultural policy have not been effective so far, while support for some effective measures, including the use of foraged legumes, and improved manure treatment and fertiliser application, has been sporadic . Reducing EU production, especially of livestock, would directly reduce agricultural GHG emissions. However, to avoid ‘leakage’ of emissions to outside the EU, this would need to be matched by a decrease in EU demand, through less food waste and a shift in diet away from meat and dairy towards plant-based protein sources .

Although agricultural GHG emissions changed very little at the EU level between 2005 and 2019, trends varied widely at the national level, with emissions increasing in 14 and decreasing in 13 Member States. For instance, emissions decreased by more than 10% in Croatia, Greece and Malta, and increased by more than 10 % in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Luxembourg.

Based on projections, most Member States anticipate a continuation of past trends if existing measures remain in place. However, some Member States anticipate a reversal of trends. For instance, although emissions decreased in Greece and Romania between 2005 and 2019, these countries predict that emissions will begin to increase if only existing measures remain in place.

The planned implementation of additional measures is expected to have an especially strong impact on agricultural emissions in Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain, namely a reduction of 10% or more by 2030 relative to projections based on only existing measures. Twelve Member States have not reported any planned additional measures expected to reduce emissions more than existing measures.

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