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Fridays for Future Europe Calls for Transforming Agricultural Policy to Tackle the Climate Crisis

"E.U. politicians must recognize that a great hope to combat the climate crisis and the collapse of biodiversity lies in agriculture."

A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer works on his field in Ghent, Belgium on May 21, 2020.

A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer works on his field in Ghent, Belgium on May 21, 2020. (Photo: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As the world recognized the International Day for Biological Diversity on Friday, the youth-led Fridays for Future movement sent an open letter to European Union leaders demanding a transformation of the economic and political coalition's agricultural policies to tackle the intertwined biodiversity and climate crises.

"Public money needs to flow into the transition to sustainable, climate-friendly and peasant agriculture. What we need is a new, evidence-based, and just CAP."
—Fridays for Future Europe
In the letter, European chapters of the global school strike for climate movement inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg specifically take aim at the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the E.U.'s decades-old system of subsidies and other support programs for member states' farmers and rural areas.

In 2018, the CAP provided farmers with €58.82 billion in income support through direct payments, market measures, and rural development measures, according to the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive arm and one of the targets of Fridays for Future's letter.

Also addressed to leaders of the European Parliament and the European Council, the letter points out that over 3,600 scientists from across the E.U. collectively warned in March that the CAP "is an inadequate response to environmental and sustainability challenges" that promotes intensive farming, and put forth 10 proposed measures to improve European policy.

"We have to realize that the CAP is an essential element in solving the climate crisis," says the letter, noting that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has exposed "the weak links of our globalized food system," which contributes to biodiversity loss and planet-heating emissions while poorly paid seasonal workers and farmers struggle to survive.

"The irony is that agriculture could provide many solutions," the letter explains.

Halving production and consumption of animal products could reduce emissions up to 40%. Emissions could be rapidly reduced by restoring our peatlands and soils. Negative emissions could be produced due to carbon fixation within our soils, as the Food and Agriculture Organization makes clear: 'the soil is our hidden ally' in tackling the climate crises. Agroecology and stopping pollution by pesticides can restore biodiversity. And above all, a regional, fair, and livelihood securing agriculture will tackle injustice and deliver a future perspective for farming. To support the key role of our farmers for the climate and our society we must encourage them with financial guidelines for emissions reduction, biodiversity recovery, and soil carbon fixation in the CAP funds.

Given the world's urgent and linked biodiversity and climate crises—and the opportunities to help combat both with rapid and radical changes to farming practices—the letter "demands a pathway to climate neutrality for the E.U.'s agricultural and food sector."

"We need to transform direct payments into payments for public goods," the letter says. "Public money needs to flow into the transition to sustainable, climate-friendly, and peasant agriculture. What we need is a new, evidence-based, and just CAP."

"E.U. politicians must now deliver the transition and help our farmers and nature. It is not too late. It is time to act now."
—Fridays for Future Europe

"E.U. politicians must now deliver the transition and help our farmers and nature. It is not too late. It is time to act now," the letter adds. "E.U. politicians must recognize that a great hope to combat the climate crisis and the collapse of biodiversity lies in agriculture and that the current CAP is on the verge of destroying it."

Fridays for Future members were set to "confront the European Commission's vice-president, Frans Timmermans, online to call for new plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and replace subsidies based on the amount of land farmed with payments for farmers supplying public goods, such as clean water, clean air, and lower carbon emissions," the Guardian reported Friday.

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The challenge to E.U. leaders from youth climate activists also came after the E.U. Farm to Fork and 2030 Biodiversity Strategies, a pair of policies released Wednesday by the European Commission as part of the European Green Deal. Climate activists celebrated positive elements of each package while also highlighting some shortcomings, which led Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE) to conclude that they "stop short of stimulating the systemic change needed."

"The European Green Deal has so far shown that you can have a growth strategy, or you can have a strategy which genuinely tackles the ecological, climate, and farming crises," said FOEE food and farming campaigner Mute Schimpf. "The Farm to Fork Strategy proves that you can't have both—putting energy efficiency labels on fridges didn't stop climate breakdown, and putting eco-labels on our food won't stop ecological collapse."

The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to promote organic farming and reduce use of antibiotics on farm animals and pesticides within the next decade. However, it "leaves the door open for weakening GMO safety laws, [and] remains dangerously weak on pesticides and industrial animal agriculture," warned Schimpf, who said that industrial farming "is causing ecological collapse."

Both FOEE and Greenpeace E.U. raised concerns about the lack of measures to curb production and consumption of meat, even though the Biodiversity Strategy acknowledges the environmental and public health impacts of industrial animal farming.

As Greenpeace E.U. agriculture policy director Marco Contiero put it: "The European Commission has finally accepted the science and recognizes that producing and consuming too much meat is hurting health, destroying nature, and driving climate breakdown—but chooses to do nothing about it."

The Biodiversity Strategy aims to protect 30% of land and seas across Europe and features a plan to address drivers of biodiversity loss to restore degraded ecosystems. Echoing Farm to Fork, the proposal also calls for ensuring 25% of E.U. agricultural land is organically farmed by 2030.

"This is a welcome first step, but its good words and positive intentions need to be taken up by the rest of the commission by updating outdated growth-driven policies to make sure nature is preserved," Friedrich Wulf, international biodiversity campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said of the strategy.

"This should start with a massive overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy," added Wulf, "to make sure it phases out factory farming and pesticides, and ensures that our food is produced by sustainable local farmers."

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