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Adapting to Climate Change : EU Agriculture and Forestry: Volume 1 Report

Date: 2010

Evidence type: Policy

Organisation: House of Lords: European Union Select Committee

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The European Commission's White Paper on adapting to climate change, of April 2009, contains proposals for a co-ordinated EU approach intended to complement measures taken by and in Member States. An accompanying paper deals with the challenge for agriculture and rural areas. This inquiry has been conducted as an extended scrutiny of the Commission's documents, and this report offers commentary on the issues raised in them.
Farming is a core policy sector for the EU, through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In the current financial period to 2013, funding under Pillar 2 of the CAP is already being allocated to measures related to climate change. The debate is underway on the shape of the CAP after 2013. The extent of support for EU agriculture to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it must be a key consideration. We see these climate change responses as part and parcel of the requirements of a sustainable intensification of agriculture which, in the opinion of the authors, should be the defining characteristics of the future CAP. 
The EU does not have a similar policy competence for forestry. However, there is an important debate to be conducted on climate change-related responses to be promoted by Member States and the EU, and this will be stimulated by the Commission Green Paper on forestry published in March 2010. 

Key Messages

Adapting agriculture and forestry to climate change will be little more than an abstract aspiration unless governments turn policies into specific advice to farmers and foresters.

The relationship of agriculture and forestry to climate change is not simply a reactive one; not only adaptation but also mitigation is an important issue.

Livestock emits methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) 21 times more potent than CO2; fertiliser use for crop-growing can produce nitrous oxide, a GHG 310 times more potent than CO2. In the EU, around 9% of GHG emissions come from agriculture. In the UK, agriculture accounts for some 7% of GHG emissions; 36% of the UK's methane emissions come from livestock and livestock manures; 67% of the UK's nitrous oxide emissions also come from agriculture, partly from livestock manures but mainly from the use of artificial fertiliser.

Green infrastructure type
Agricultural land
Climate change role/function
Food production

Changes in the availability of water will be a major determinant of future agricultural practice.

The Environment Agency stated that by 2050 in England and Wales, river flows in the late summer and early autumn could decrease by over 50% and as much as 80% in some places; total annual average river flow was expected to fall by up to 15%. 


Reduced quantity of water has implications for water quality, if less water is available for the dilution of effluent from run-off from agricultural or other land uses, or of treated sewage effluent: "The implications of all of that are that there will be less water available for agricultural purposes, ... and of course we have to balance the amount available for agriculture with that for public water supply, for industry and of course for wildlife, leaving some in the environment as a basis" 


Changes in the distribution of rainfall could give rise to severe flooding, as happened in Cumbria in 2009, and this had implications for soil erosion. The Cumbrian example was just one of several such incidences around the UK.

Green infrastructure type
Water bodies; Agricultural land
Climate change role/function
Managing water supply; Managing riverine flooding; Helping other species to adapt

Woodland creation and forestry in general should be seen as an important component of the land manager's toolkit to reduce soil erosion, to alleviate flooding and to improve water quality

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Woodland
Climate change role/function
Non-specific mitigation role/function; Non-specific adaptation role/function; Managing water supply; Managing riverine flooding; Reducing soil erosion

The White Paper identifies the integration of adaptation into EU policies as one of the components in Phase 1 of the adaptation framework proposed. It proposes the following actions to be taken in the period to 2013 by the EU and Member States:

- ensuring that measures for adaptation and water management are embedded in national rural development strategies and programmes for 2007-2013 

- consideration of how adaptation can be integrated into the three strands of rural development and how to give adequate support for sustainable production, including how the CAP can contribute to the efficient use of water in agriculture 

- examination of the capacity of the Farm Advisory System to reinforce training, knowledge and adoption of new technologies that facilitate adaptation 

- updating of the forestry strategy, and launch of debate on options for an EU approach on forest protection and forest information systems

Climate change role/function
Non-specific adaptation role/function; Managing water supply

"Forest Protection and Information in the EU: Preparing forests for climate change"

The Green Paper sets out the characteristics of EU forestry and woodland and the challenges faced by forests in a changing climate and raises a series of questions in order to initiate a public debate. It is noted that forests provide a number of socio-economic and environmental functions and that climate change is likely to have a significant gradual impact on forestry, particularly through pests and species change. Climate change will also increase forestry's vulnerability to shocks such as storms and fires. 

The Commission asks: 

- whether forest functions should be given more attention and, if so, what sort of action is required and at what level; 

- to what extent the sector is ready to address the challenges, whether any regions are particularly vulnerable and how the EU can contribute to action by Member States; 

- whether current EU and national policies are sufficient to ensure that the EU contributes to forest protection; 

- specifically what steps are required to conserve and adapt to climate change the gene pool in forest reproductive material; and 

- how information about forest resources and condition could be improved.

Green infrastructure type
Climate change role/function
Helping other species to adapt

Afforestation could be part of the tool kit of farmers in adapting to climate change.

This might be for several could be a good option for land managers where land was becoming otherwise unproductive. Alternatively, increased woodland cover had a role to play in productive agriculture by providing shade for livestock and crops and by assisting in water and soil management. The practical example was given of a group of Welsh farmers, who had planted small blocks of woodland and found an increase in pasture production and increased lambing percentage, with the bonus that benefits were derived from the woodland more quickly than if the woodland had simply been grown for timber production, with a lengthy rotation period

Green infrastructure type
Woodland; Trees; Agricultural land
Climate change role/function
Food production; Managing high temperatures; Reducing soil erosion; Helping other species to adapt

Increasing levels of soil degradation might be one impact of climate change.

Agriculture has a role to play in overcoming this problem by introducing modern terracing allowing water capture during periods of intense rainfall and retention during drier periods in order to maintain the quality of soil. 


The committee recommends that the Government and Commission give consideration to innovative approaches to soil management and soil use, such as the protection of the existing capacity of soil to act as a carbon sink, and carbon storage in soils through the addition of biochar.

Green infrastructure type
Agricultural land
Climate change role/function
Carbon storage and sequestration; Reducing soil erosion
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