Governance

Policy Brief // European Agriculture: Is it possible to promote both competitiveness and environmental sustainability?

Kerry A. Waylen, Kirsty L. Blackstock, Keith B. Matthews, Alba Juarez-Bourke, Mike Rivington, Dave G. Miller, Doug Wardell-Johnson (The James Hutton Institute). This policy brief used a ‘societal metabolism analysis’ to identify quantitative, multi-scale assessments of changes in the funds and flows of land, human time, materials, energy and money to propose changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The focus is thus on understanding the mix of biophysical and socio-economic resources needed. The policy brief was developed by "MAGIC Nexus", a project by the European Union's Horizon2020 research and innovation program.

The Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union aims to support multiple objectives for farming, rural communities, and the environment. However, is it really possible to deliver all these objectives? In MAGIC, we consider this question by taking a ‘social metabolism’ approach to consider the flows of input and outputs associated with current farming systems and their effects on stocks of natural capital. Our results suggest that some current farming systems have negative environmental impacts. This is a matter of concern, given the objectives for CAP post 2020 explicitly aim to balance economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Key messages

CAP is supporting the competitiveness of European agriculture, but Europe’s farming systems are not yet environmentally sustainable in terms of nitrogen outputs, soil erosion and their consequences for the environment beyond the EU. Current patterns of farming depend on rates of biophysical inputs – such as nitrogen fertiliser or imported livestock feed – which, in turn, are associated with pollution and other damage to the environment. Reducing these damages may therefore entail a reduction in the intensity of these inputs, and hence rethinking the processes or intensity of food production. This may not fit easily with all societal expectations and acceptability. If CAP is to achieve a more sustainable balance between competitiveness and the environment, then it may need to support measures to reduce the demands being placed on Europe’s farmed areas.

 

Published

May 2019

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© MAGIC Nexus

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Kerry A. Waylen, Kirsty L. Blackstock, Keith B. Matthews, Alba Juarez-Bourke, Mike Rivington, Dave G. Miller, Doug Wardell-Johnson (The James Hutton Institute). European Agriculture: Is it possible to promote both competitiveness and environmental sustainability?

 

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