EU Ministers Face Up to the Challenge of Climate Change for Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture and land-use can play a significant role in addressing climate change and still provide the economic and social benefits rural areas need, Margaret Beckett Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said today. Mrs Beckett was speaking at the conclusion of the first combined meeting of the EU Agriculture and Environment Councils which discussed the relationship between climate change and agriculture.

Mrs Beckett, who chaired the meeting, said:

“Climate change is the most serious and long-term challenge we face and agriculture is the second largest source of UK greenhouse gases, 7% of the UK’s emissions. The UK government is determined to keep action to tackle climate change high on the international agenda. This is why we have made climate change a key priority for our presidencies of both the G8 and the EU this year.

“In the UK we are taking these issues forward with our Climate Change Programme Review and a policy framework for adaptation, to be published later this year. We have also established a high-level Rural Climate Change Forum to help us address these challenges effectively.

“Land managers control some 42% of the land area of the EU and their role is vital as we strive for sustainability. Climate change will create new challenges for land managers but may also bring opportunities for the creation of new rural enterprises

“Farmers can help to address the drastic impacts of climate change, for example through water management to reduce the risks of flooding. The agricultural sector also needs to consider how it can contribute to reducing its own direct emissions of greenhouse gases, for instance through energy crop production and changing their management practices for fertiliser and manure application.”

Ministers heard presentations from seven leading international experts. In her summing up at the end of meeting, Mrs Beckett stressed how vital it was for both agriculture and environment Ministers to work together to help farmers and land managers face up to the challenges and opportunities which climate change presents.

She highlighted some key messages which the speakers had presented to Ministers:

  • The impacts of climate change on Europe’s farming and food industries may be less than the impact on the rest of the world.
  • Nevertheless, southern and central Europe are likely to face great challenges in terms of water shortage, and heat stress.
  • There is a need to maintain flexibility in policy making so that land managers are able to respond to uncertainties which climate change will bring.
  • An integrated approach to policies and messages addressed to land managers is vital so that in solving one problem we do not inadvertently create others. This applies at national as well as at international level.
  • Agriculture, like other modern industries, needs to embrace the concept of resource efficiency to the full and to its advantage.
  • Innovation needs to be encouraged so that land managers can seize opportunities related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Mrs. Beckett added:

“It will be important that we continue to share our experiences to manage the impacts of climate change and address major risks, such as the fire and flooding events we have recently witnessed across Europe.

“The European Commission also has an important role to play in promoting and co-ordinating strategies for mitigating climate change, and I very much welcome the importance which both Commissioner Fischer-Boel and Commissioner Dimas attached to this issue at our meeting and to continue to work together on it in the future.”

Notes for editors

1. Environment and Agriculture Ministers from across Europe – EU Member States, accession countries (Bulgaria and Romania), candidate countries (Turkey and Croatia) along with those from EEA countries (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) attended the meeting in London over the weekend of 9th to 12th September. The joint discussion on climate change and agriculture took place on the morning of 11th September.

2. The joint meeting heard presentations from: Professor Sir David King (UK Chief Scientific Advisor); Dr. Martin Parry (Hadley Centre); Dr. Günther Fischer (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria); Professor Jacqueline McGlade (European Environment Agency), Professor Chris Pollock (Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research), José M. Moreno (University of Castilla-La Mancha) and John Gilliland (Co-chair of Rural Climate Change Forum).

3. Copies of the presentations will be available from the UK EU Presidency 2005 website –

4. Key facts and figures:

  • UK Agriculture contributes 7% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions
  • But UK agriculture emits 67% of nitrous oxide and 46% of methane.
  • There has been an overall decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from UK agriculture of 14% since 1990
  • nitrous oxide from UK agriculture has declined 15% since 1990
  • methane from UK agriculture has declined 12% since 1990
  • Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from the EU-25 in 2003 were 476 Mt CO2-equivalent, a 14% decline on 1990
  • Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from the EU-15 in 2003 were 414 Mt CO2-equivalent, a 10% decline on 1990

5. The Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) will have a formal meeting on Sunday afternoon in London. Their agenda includes preparation for Ministerial discussion at the next formal Council in Brussels on 19 September.


DEFRA pressrelease Sept. 11, 2005.