The EU has been chastised for including concessions for the agri-food industry in its newly-released emissions reduction target.

The European Commission has laid out plans to cut greenhouse emissions by 90% by 2040 as part of its aim to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent.

But environmental groups are angry the final document no longer refers to cutting agricultural emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas released by cows and by food waste, or nitrogen, a pollutant in fertiliser and manure.

Pieter de Pous from the multi-jurisdiction climate think-tank E3G said: “It’s hard to find a more fitting use of the metaphor ‘cutting off the branch you sit on’ than witnessing farmers unite in efforts to undermine the very climate policies designed to protect them from the devastating impacts of climate changes.”

Nusa Urbancic, CEO of Netherlands-based Changing Markets, said: “Although the EU’s plan to cut its emissions by 90% by 2040 is in line with scientific advice, the idea that the farming sector can somehow be excluded from cutting its pollution is wrong and will undermine the sector’s long-term viability.

“The Commission’s impact assessment shows a compelling case to have an ambitious sub-target for agriculture, which is also the largest source of methane emissions in the EU, responsible for 54% of the total.”

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By GlobalData

But the EU’s stance has been welcomed by farming bodies.

“A dialogue with farmers has finally been chosen,” European farming and agri-food organisation Copa and Cogeca said in a statement

“At first glance, Copa and Cogeca welcome mainly the willingness to strengthen the bioeconomy sector and the renewed interest to talk to farmers in the framework of the strategic dialogue. The ongoing outreach will help the next Commission to table legislative proposals for the post-2030 policy framework, which will deliver the 2040 target in a fair and cost-efficient manner.”

The 2040 target was announced on Tuesday (6 February) in the European Parliament alongside a new strategy to capture carbon. It will become a legislative proposal after the next European elections.

In its statement accompanying the announcement, the EC said: “Setting a 2040 climate target will help European industry, investors, citizens and governments to make decisions in this decade that will keep the EU on track to meet its climate neutrality objective in 2050.

“It will send important signals on how to invest and plan effectively for the longer term, minimising the risks of stranded assets. With this forward-planning, it is possible to shape a prosperous, competitive and fair society, to decarbonise EU industry and energy systems, and to ensure that Europe is a prime destination for investment, with stable future-proof jobs.”

Specifically on the role farmers can play, it said: “With the right policies and support, the agriculture sector can also play a role in the transition, while ensuring sufficient food production in Europe, securing fair incomes and providing other vital services such as enhancing the capacity of soils and forests to store more carbon.

“A holistic dialogue with the broader food industry, also beyond the farm gate, is crucial to success in this area and to the development of sustainable practices and business models.”

Farmers across Europe have been protesting for several weeks in a row over price pressures.

The scrapped agriculture emissions target is the latest EU concession to farmers in the last few days. It has already rowed back on a proposal for farms to use fewer pesticides.