01 Jul 2021, 13:26
Benjamin Wehrmann

German government seeks consensus on climate-friendly farming akin to coal phase-out deal

Clean Energy Wire

The German government is striving for social consensus on the climate-friendly transformation of the agricultural sector with a commission that has brokered a compromise between the stakeholders involved. According to the environment ministry (BMU), the "Commission on the Future of Agriculture" that had been set up in reaction to large protests by farmers against planned regulations reached a common position "that explicitly supports climate and environmental protection goals and at the same time highlights agriculture's role as a key sector for society as a whole." Environment minister Svenja Schulze said the agriculture commission's compromise could lay the groundwork for a broad consensus akin to that brokered by Germany's coal exit commission, which resolved the dispute about the fossil fuel technology's phase-out by bringing various stakeholders together. "What has worked for the coal commission can also work for agriculture," Schulze said. The minister said the commission's final report after ten months of negotiations will be presented to Chancellor Angela Merkel on 6 July. "This is an opportunity for a fresh start in agricultural policy," Schulze said, adding that the commission members had "looked at the entire food system" and addressed producers and consumers alike.

The German Farmers' Association (DBV) said the report would signal "a clear commitment to Germany as a production location" and stressed that cooperation with other stakeholders in the commission had been respectful and goal-oriented at all times. The report would thus "not mark the end but rather the beginning and basis of further deliberations." The DBV said relocating production abroad should be out of the question to avoid leakage effects, which is why an EU-wide approach to reform farming would be urgently needed. "A sustainable transformation will only work if all stakeholders are open to new solutions and technologies as well as to framework conditions that allow for their success on the market," the farmers' association said.

Environmental organisation DUH generally welcomed the commission's work but said it had already missed an opportunity to tackle basic flaws in the German agricultural sector, namely its export orientation and reliance on factory farming. While DUH welcomed that the commission's final report calls for an overall reduction of meat consumption in the country and endorsed the provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and overfertilisation of soils, it criticised that the export-oriented nature of Germany's agricultural sector had not been called into question. "The long-overdue system change in agriculture from export to regional food supply is missing," said DUH's Sascha Müller-Kraenner. "Just like with the nuclear and coal commissions, we need binding commitments to end the state-backed export of bulk goods in the meat and dairy industries to the global market," he said. Environmental group NABU, which sat on the commission, said it would have to ensure that public money for agriculture "consistently and comprehensively pays toward the common good." It said the final report included provisions keeping a minimum share of farmland reserved for supporting biodiversity, a restructuring of EU common agricultural policy payments to tie them to environmental goals and tighter regulation for animal welfare. "The transformation of agriculture will cost a lot of money," NABU's Jörg-Andreas Krüger said, adding that consumers will have to pay their fair share to make it work. "But this is far less costly than ecological and social costs arising from today's practices," he argued.

Farming's climate impact increasingly shifts into the focus, as Germany has set itself the goal to reach climate neutrality by 2045. Earlier this year, the government took some first tentative steps towards a change away from area-based farming subsidies to payments made depending on the environmental performance of farmers. The government cabinet has agreed on how to implement European rules during the next funding period under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

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