Europe’s farmers must think how to adapt to climate change in coming decades, altering their practices to cut greenhouse gas emissions, make agriculture more resilient and keep land in use, a European Commission paper said.
The uneven effects of climatic change were likely to widen regional differences across the European Union’s farmland and increase economic disparities between rural areas, the Commission said in the draft paper seen by Reuters March 16.
“In the long run, climatic pressures may lead to further marginalization of agriculture or even to the abandonment of agricultural land in parts of the EU,” the paper said.
“This would significantly affect landscapes and biodiversity and influence the overall development of European regions,” it said. “Over the next decades, adaptation will need to go beyond mere adjustments of current practice.”
Farming’s contribution to global warming – agriculture is a significant source of nitrous oxide and methane emissions – could be mitigated if farmers focused on renewable energies and bioproducts as well as on storing carbon in arable soils.
The paper suggested, for example, that farmers look at soil and tillage practices that help maintain and increase organic carbon in soils. Organic farming was likely to be more resilient to climate change because of its efficient nutrient cycles and soil management, and tendency to promote higher biodiversity.
Shorter-term technical solutions might include protecting orchards from frost damage, improving cooling systems in animal shelters and changing planting dates and crop variety selection for better adaptation to growing season lengths, it said.
But longer-term answers were needed across EU countries’ farming sectors. Vulnerable areas could be identified at a national level, irrigation plans developed, while there could be more support for farming research and experimental production.
All that would need funding, said the paper – which is still in draft form and due to be published next month.
“Autonomous farm level adaptation may find its limits as climate change impacts gradually become more drastic,” it said.
“Financial support to adaptation needs to be envisaged because some of the measures for adjusting to new climatic conditions are likely to be costly and need investments, which are unaffordable to farmers,” the paper added.