+3600 scientists: The EU Common Agricultural Policy must stop destroying nature

Scientists from all EU countries and beyond say that the European Commission’s proposal for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020 must be ‘drastically improved’ in order to stop harming the environment. They propose ten urgent actions to reform the CAP for long-term food security, biodiversity conservation and climate mitigation. If adopted, evidence-based, planet-friendly farming would finally begin to reverse the taxpayer-funded destruction of nature.

Over 3600 scientists from 63 countries state that the current CAP is a central driver of the biodiversity and climate emergencies as well as failing on socio-economic challenges for rural areas [1]. Currently, the criteria to receive CAP payments are inadequate: the CAP is both unfairly distributed, and funds practices that cause widespread biodiversity loss, climate change, and soil and land degradation.

The scientists’ statement comes at a crucial moment as the next period of CAP funding (2021-2027) is negotiated – in parallel to discussions on the post-2020 EU budget, including how much will go to farm subsidies and what conditions there will be on payments. As it stands, the CAP risks undermining the European Green Deal.

From multi-functionality to monitoring and enforcement, the scientists’ ten actions may sound like EU policy jargon to the uninitiated, but these are vital steps to preserve nature in Europe. What these scientists have released is a recipe for the ecological transition of agriculture. To achieve this, they say that the CAP should stop funding destructive practices and significantly step up support for farmers’ transition to nature-friendly farming. For example, they call for 10% of farmland area to be devoted to natural habitats such as hedgerows, flower strips or fallow land. There should also be specific funding allocated to farmers for just transition to environmentally friendly farming.

Twenty-one ecologists, economists and agricultural scientists drafted the position paper and posted it in the form of a petition on the Internet in autumn last year. Over 3,600 scientists, from all 27 EU countries, have signed the petition, some of them well-known people from society and public authorities. The petition has now been closed and the position paper with the list of signatories published. A more in-depth version of the text, with specific proposals for implementation, appears in the latest issue of the journal People and Nature. The statements here refer to the signed position paper.

The action was coordinated by researchers from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Rostock.

"The EU is contradicting itself by asserting that the next CAP will be better for the environment and rural areas, while at the same time, cutting the budget for doing just that," says co-initiator and first author of the position paper Dr Guy Pe’er, ecologist at the iDiv research centre and at the UFZ.

Of particular worry are budget cuts for Rural Development Programmes, including Agri-Environment-Climate Measures. If designed and implemented well, these policy tools are demonstared to be the most effective in supporting pro-environmental farming practices. “The importance of such measures in countries such as Finland are impossible to overemphasize,” says Dr Irina Herzon from the University of Helsinki.

“It is publicised in a national report MYTTEHO made public on March, 3 [2]. Cutting the respective budgets, rather than reducing barriers to effective implementation (such as insufficient funding and challenges of targetting) are therefore counterproductive."

The position paper also refers to the ‘European Green Deal’ announced last December by EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen promising a “…climate-neutral Europe and the protection of our natural habitat…” by 2050. However, the Commission’s claim that 40% of the expenditures for Direct Payments and Support for Areas for Natural Constraints are already “climate-friendly” lack any justification. The authors call on the Commission, Parliament and Council to step up and fulfil their responsibility to protect European agricultural systems, landscapes and people.



[1] As it stands, almost 60 billion euros of EU taxpayer money is spent every year on CAP subsidies, which accounts for nearly 40% of the total EU budget. The intensive agriculture model it mostly promotes directly leads to biodiversity loss, water and air pollution, over-extraction of water and contributes to the climate crisis. Reforming the CAP is urgent: the EU has lost 57% of its farmland birds since 1980. Butterflies, bees and flying insects are also in serious decline.

What makes the Commission proposal for the CAP post-2020 weak?

Read Pe’er et al. 2019, science (open access links); download the 65-page supplementary materials (PDF)

See Open Letter by professional societies of ornithologists, mammalogists, herpetologists and butterfly experts here.



Guy Pe'er et al. Action needed for the EU Common Agricultural Policy to address sustainability challenges. People and Nature 8 March 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10080

Researcher's View texts are science and research-related statements from the University of Helsinki researchers.