Press Release

CAP needs to be more targeted for better environmental effectiveness

Press Release Published 21 Mar 2006 Last modified 13 Apr 2011
5 min read
Environmental efforts pursued through the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) need to be better targeted geographically to maximise their effectiveness according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), based in Copenhagen.

PRESS RELEASE - Copenhagen, 21 March 2006

'Integration of environment into EU agriculture policy', an environmental evaluation of CAP, was launched today at the European Parliament in Brussels. The report suggests more targeted policy to help preserve the Natura 2000 network of protected areas across Europe. Traditional 'extensive' or low intensity farming is essential for maintaining the high animal and plant diversity of these areas, the report says.

CAP now includes a range of measures aimed at supporting better environmental management in agriculture and the report notes considerable progress in terms of integrating environmental protection into agriculture policy.

"However, in terms of protecting biodiversity, the pattern of CAP spending is not as good as it should be. Biodiversity suffers more where farming is intensive and fares better where farming is less intensive," says Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA.

The IRENA report also points out that the pattern of spending by Member States reveals that the majority of agri-environment funds are allocated or 'programmed' in areas of intensive farming, many of which are in the North of the continent. The environmental effectiveness of the CAP budget could be improved if Member States programmed more money to be spent in areas of less intensive farming, traditionally in the South. These regions have a higher share of Natura 2000 areas and 'high nature value farmland' which are threatened both by abandonment of farming or its intensification. To avoid these negative trends these regions could benefit from better targeted support from CAP.

"Protecting biodiversity is a top-level policy objective of the EU and the UN. It is important because it encourages the ecological stability of agro-ecosystems and because a variety of flowers, butterflies, birds and animals add to the natural capital of rural areas. CAP's agri-environment spending could provide more environmental benefit if it were targeted on areas of key importance for biodiversity," Professor McGlade said.

The IRENA report is part of the wider IRENA project which assesses the link between agriculture and environment in the EU-15 on the basis of 35 agri-environment indicators. IRENA stands for "Indicator Reporting on the Integration of Environmental Concerns into Agriculture Policy" (see editor's notes).

While the report notes considerable progress in terms of integrating environmental protection into the objectives of agriculture policy, it underlines the impact that farming continues to have particularly on soil and water resources. Agriculture is responsible for about 50% of water use in southern Europe and contributes about 50% of total nitrogen pollution in the rivers of the EU-15. Farming also emits 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions and 94% of ammonia emissions in the EU-15.

The report stresses that a significant investment into data collection on key environmental issues, farm trends and the spatial distribution of policy measures is necessary for a proper evaluation of the CAP. Only then, will a full assessment of the impact of agriculture policy on the environment be possible.

Notes to the Editor:

The IRENA project
This report is one of the outputs of the IRENA project. IRENA stands for "Indicator Reporting on the Integration of Environmental Concerns into Agriculture Policy". It is a joint exercise between several Commission Directorates-Generals including DG Agriculture and Rural Development, DG Environment, DG Joint Research Centre, Eurostat and the European Environment Agency.

The project covers the 15 Member States that constituted the EU in 2002. It is a response of the European Commission to the request of the Agricultural Council made in 2001 to develop a set of agri-environmental indicators for monitoring progress towards the integration of environmental concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The 35 indicators produced are based on a wide range of data sources, collected at different geographical levels (national and regional), and generally cover the period from 1990 to 2000. They are presented in 'indicator fact sheets'. Further information on IRENA reports and results is available at:

Natura 2000
Natura 2000 refers to an EU network of sites designated by Member States to conserve natural habitats and species of wildlife which are rare, endangered or vulnerable in the European Community. The term Natura 2000 comes from the 1992 EC Habitats Directive, it symbolises the conservation of precious natural resources for the year 2000 and beyond

CAP and the Environment
The European Council in Helsinki (December 1999), adopted a strategy to integrate an environmental dimension into the CAP. The integration requirement implies an active pursuit of coherence and complementarity between agriculture and environment policies.

Key Findings of the IRENA project

  • Due to decreased livestock numbers and mineral fertiliser consumption, greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions from agriculture have declined by about 9 per cent since 1990. However, a continuation of these trends will not be enough to meet 2010 ammonia emission reduction targets.
    • In 2002, the agricultural sector contributed around 10% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mainly methane and nitrous oxide. Agricultural emissions of GHG fell by nearly 9% between 1990 and 2002, mainly due to a reduction of livestock numbers, the lower use of mineral fertilisers, and changes in farm management practices.
    • Agricultural emissions of ammonia decreased by 9% during the same period. The agricultural sector still represented an estimated 94% of ammonia emissions in the EU-15 in 2002.
  • The irrigable area within the EU-12 increased by 12 per cent from 1990 to 2000, mostly in Mediterranean countries where irrigation accounted for about 50 per cent of water use. The figure drops to approximately 7 per cent in Northern Europe.
  • The majority of farmland birds suffered a strong decline from 1980 to 2002. This decline levelled off in the 1990s but species diversity remains at a low level in intensively farmed areas.


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