BEATLES reviews CAP policies and frameworks supporting Climate Smart Agriculture

BEATLES has started producing significant research outputs by way of a systematic mapping on existing “lock-ins” and “levers” affecting the adoption of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in the European Union.

Part of this extensive, collaborative exercise was carried out by Serafin Pazos-Vidal, Senior Expert at the European Association for Innovation in Local Development (AEIDL), which carried out a systematic mapping of 100 pieces of published literature aims to identify the role of the EU Common Agricultural Policy affecting the introduction of CSA and how this influences -positively/negatively, consciously/consequentially- behavioural shifts towards sustainable food systems.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the main economic and behavioural change incentive that exists not only at EU level (1/3 of the EU budget) but also at national level and in specific value chains. It is through it that the existing EU sustainability goals particularly those set out in the EU Green Deal, are delivered; indeed, the CAP is often the prime vehicle for implementing these policies.

A significant body of the surveyed research shows that still today CAP favours intensification or is not able to avoid outputs contrary to enhanced climate sustainability in agriculture. This is rather consistent in both pan-European policy-focused studies as well as those pieces of research that is case-, country/region- or sector- specific.

Of particular interest for BEATLES are those farm and farm-centred research outputs, as they show the complexity of factors that affect behavioural change, of which CAP rules (or national ones such as fiscal incentives) are a key but by no means an exclusive factor for behavioural change. This is combined with sector and geographical specific factors and, more still, with under-researched and usually difficult to grasp social, cultural and perception factors that can at some times have a key driver in promoting or preventing behavioural change.

As the key financial and behavioural incentive for the adoption of CSA that exists in Europe, as CAP is the main delivery instrument to finance and implement the ambition contained in the wider EU strategies for climate and energy whose most recent iteration is the 2020 EU Green Deal.  About half of the reviewed evidence deals with CAP as a policy and roughly the other half focuses on specific studies at national/subnational level or from a value chain angle.

The findings of this review suggested that existing CSA measures under CAP (themselves meant to be delivering critical aspects of EU environmental, sustainability and climate policies of the EU Green Deal) fail to meet the broader policy objectives set by the EU climate, Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies and digital agendas. This is quite relevant as CAP is one third of the EU budget (€387bn across the above-mentioned period), and indeed it is much larger than the EU thematic funds (e.g., the LIFE programme, which is the EU funding instrument for the environment and climate action amounts to only €5,4bn). Given its size, the leverage that CAP can potentially provide for the adoption of climate smart practices is much higher than the policies and funds specifically gearing to the adoption of smart and sustainable practices.

However, in some cases, agricultural payments act as disincentive or do not take into account the adoption of sustainability practices where agricultural payments were not associated with sustainable practices. Also, there is often an unalignment between tax incentives and CAP subsidies that not only do not prevent but constitute a perverse incentive for the intensive use of unsustainable practices. Sometimes certain payments and schemes make sense at EU level in terms of sustainability but its application on the ground can provide little or even negative outcomes in terms of enhanced sustainability.

In short, CAP is both the best hope that Europe has for a more sustainable and climate-smart agriculture, but it still has a long time to go to address its shortcomings to support rural communities and farmers in making Europe and its food production really sustainable. To find new ways of doing so is precisely what BEATLES has been launched for.