Climate Change Mitigation in EU Food Systems. A Holistic Approach

EU climate mitigation policies regarding agriculture are less than ambitious. This is due to a flawed understanding of what agricultural policy should take into account, this article argues: not 'the farm' should be the focal point of agricultural policy but the food system as a whole. This opens the view to a wide range of possible climate change mitigation measures that are usually not taken into account.

Environmental Sciences
Political Science
Climate change / climate protection
Ecological consequences
Food policy
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[Translate to English:] CC0 von Alexander Jungmann auf pixabay.com

1 Introduction

Agriculture is the fifth largest contributing sector to European greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – after the energy, transport, industry and residential sectors. According to most recent data, it was responsible for around 516 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent (Mt CO2-eq) in 2015 (cf. European Environment Agency 2019) which amounts to about 10% of overall European Union (EU) emissions (cf. Eurostat 2018) and 1% of overall worldwide emissions (cf. IPCC 2019: 9). The cited figures refer to direct agricultural emissions only, excluding GHG emissions from other parts of the food chain such as emissions from land-use change, fertilizer production, consumption or waste processing. This way of accounting, used throughout the EU when referring to agricultural GHG emissions, has important implications for possible mitigation measures and, in turn, considerably limits the agricultural sector’s mitigation potential.

However, in view of the global community’s target of staying within a temperature rise of “well below 2°C” (UN 2015a: Art. 2) and becoming carbon neutral by 2050 (UN 2015a: Art. 4), the EU will have to address all emissions from its agricultural sector and find ways of mitigating them. It will have to do so quickly as serious mitigation efforts will become ever more costly the longer they are postponed (Winning et al. 2018). This is not only relevant regarding international commitments. The goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 has been taken up by the European Commission (EC) in its latest Roadmap (EC 2018: 3) and has been promised to be enshrined in EU law by the new President of the EC, Ursula von der Leyen (2019: 5).

The question of how this can be done is especially urgent because the efforts the EU Member States have directed at their agricultural sectors so far are, as research conducted for the EU Agriculture Committee concludes, “rather minimalist” (Hart et al. 2017: 55). Consequently, emissions in the EU agriculture sector are projected to decrease by only around 2% until 2030 (Muller et al. 2016: 51). The heart of the EU’s agricultural mitigation policy is supposed to be found in its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (EC 2019). Yet, the CAP seems to be designed to improve productivity and efficiency rather than tackle climate mitigation. This is, e.g., reflected in the fact that within the CAP’s Rural Development Program, many Member States have not set any or only low targets regarding the climate priority (Hart et al. 2017: 55).

Unsurprisingly, the EU is projected to reach the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) it has submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) not due to rigorous mitigation action regarding agriculture but because of the recent adoption of ambitious energy efficiency targets (Climate Transparency 2019: 21) . Even so, the European NDC is not ambitious enough to reach the 2°C goal. If all government targets were within this range, global warming would reach up to 3°C (Climate Action Tracker 2019).

In this paper, I will, therefore, address the following research question: Compared to a business-as-usual scenario, what is the potential offered by a holistic approach to EU agricultural GHG emissions mitigation? By holistic, I mean a perspective that takes into account all emissions connected to the food system and reports them as part of agricultural GHG emissions, not only direct emissions arising on farms. I will argue that a change towards a holistic perspective regarding agricultural emissions is essential for the EU to not only come to a wholesome understanding of the problems that need to be addressed but to reach its GHG emissions reduction targets for the sector.

To explicate the argument, I will introduce the emissions reduction targets the EU has agreed to in a global setting respectively has set for itself and point out linkages to other priorities on the international agenda (2.). When this framework is set, I will go into further detail on where agricultural GHG emissions stem from and how they can be mitigated – firstly, by applying a business-as-usual approach (3.) and secondly, by applying a holistic approach (4.). In a final conclusion, I will refer the different options back to the targets, carve out how the two approaches differ regarding their mitigation potential and demand a reconceptualization of what constitutes agricultural GHG emissions (5.).

As to the material studied, I rely mainly on independent research published in some of the most relevant journals at the intersection of political science, environmental science, and food and agriculture science such as Nature Climate Change, Climate Policy or Food Policy. To round up the policy background, I analyze communications published by EU institutions, the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and agricultural environmental non-governmental organizations.

2 Legal Framework and Targets

Commonly viewed as a treaty with at least the potential of becoming a milestone in global climate governance (cf. e.g. Grosjean et al. 2018, Michaelova 2017: 2), the UN Paris Agreement has established the target of holding the increase in the global temperature rise to “well below 2°C” (UN 2015a: Art. 2), pursuing the goal of 1.5°C. The 197 Parties to the Convention “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter” (UN 2015a: Art. 4), so as to reach carbon neutrality in 2050. The burden of this first-ever international commitment to reducing GHG emissions lies therefore especially on countries with high total historical emissions like the EU Member States (Richards/Wollenberg/van Vuuren 2018), having peaked already in 1979 (Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2015: 3).

Another document of significance for EU agriculture is the Agenda 2030 (UN 2015b), adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2015, only months before the Paris Agreement. It contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the global community seeks to achieve, including the end of poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2), the insurance of sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12) and urgent action tackling climate change (SDG 13).

Regarding the pathway to the Paris goals, the UN (2015a: Art. 4) applies a bottom-up approach, requiring the Parties to prepare so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), thereby choosing the amount of emissions reductions they are aiming for themselves (Wirth 2017: 197). The EU and its Member States have set themselves the target of achieving a reduction in GHG emissions of at least 40% in 2030 compared to the baseline year of 1990 (Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2015). This is consistent with the EU’s mitigation plans which had by then already been outlined in the Roadmap for Moving to a Competitive Low Carbon Economy: achieving emissions reductions of 20% by 2020, 40% by 2030 and 80–95% by 2050 (EC 2011).

On the EU level, these targets are supported by two main legislative mechanisms, namely the Emissions Trading System (ETS), directed at power stations and industrial plants high in energy consumption, and the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), directed at the non-ETS sectors transport, buildings, agriculture , small-scale industry, and waste. The ESD contains national reduction targets which add up to an overall reduction of 10% by 2020 compared to 2005 (EC 2016b: 9–12). For the period from 2021 to 2030, the ESD will be replaced by the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), which sets the target of emissions reductions of 30% by 2030 compared to 2005 (EC 2016a). Importantly, however, neither the ESD nor the ESR contains specific targets for the sectors covered. Therefore, there are no precise requirements for the agricultural sector (Hart et al. 2017: 39, 51). This has allowed the EC to change from the proposition of an intermediate 2030 target for the agricultural sector of a 36–37% reduction compared to 1990 (EC 2011: 6) to the assumption that most of the necessary emissions cuts in the ESD/ESR sectors will be delivered by energy efficiency, making further policy incentives in the agricultural sector almost or completely superfluous (EC 2016b: 136 f.).

3 Business-as-Usual Approach

When it comes to the agricultural sector, the EU relies heavily on its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which it attests a “key role” (EC 2019) regarding the sector’s climate mitigation. The CAP has traditionally been the largest single expenditure in the EU’s spendings and – with a seven year-budget of 365 billion euros – will continue to do so in the upcoming period from 2021 to 2027. As it was launched in 1962 in post-war Europe, ensuring food security for EU-citizens was and still remains its main objective. Therefore, three-quarters of the money is being used to subsidize farmers according to the size of their land via so-called direct payments without requiring them to comply with any conditions (Heinemann/Weiss 2018; European Environment Agency 2016). Thus, while agricultural non-CO2 emissions have decreased by more than 20% since 1990, not even the EC attributes this directly to the CAP and rather vows to strive for higher environmental and climate goals in the future (EC 2019). However, it will stick to its business-as-usual practice in the sense that it is still taking into account direct non-CO2 emissions from agriculture only, continuously excluding GHG emissions from other parts of the food chain.

Direct non-CO2 agricultural GHG emissions in the EU stem from three main sources, all of them being results of natural processes. The first of the three is enteric fermentation, a part of the digestive process in ruminant animals like cattle, sheep or goats. During this process, the greenhouse gas methane (CH4) develops, especially due to poorly digestible feed (cf. Gerber et al. 2013: 20). Methane from enteric fermentation accounts for around 45% of EU agricultural GHG emissions and is, therefore, the biggest direct source (cf. Eurostat 2018).
The second biggest direct source is managed soils, being accountable for around 38% of GHG emissions in EU agriculture (cf. Eurostat 2018). Managed, i.e. fertilized, land emits nitrous oxide (N2O) because of microbial nitrification and denitrification processes as well as other processes in soils. These emissions arise from all fertilizer types, be they synthetic, mineral-based or organic following a roundabout linear relationship between the amount of nitrogen applied and the amount of nitrous oxide emitted (cf. Muller et al. 2016: 22).
As the third biggest direct source, manure management is responsible for around 15% of EU agricultural GHG emissions (cf. Eurostat 2018), namely methane as well as nitrous oxide produced through the anaerobic decomposition of organic material (cf. Gerber et al. 2013: 20).

Regarding these direct sources of emissions, there is a limited repertoire of possible mitigation options coming into view , all of them consisting of technical adjustments rather than structural changes.

There are two mitigation options often considered the main avenues for mitigation in the livestock sector. The first one is a change in the composition of feed given to ruminants: concentrate feed or higher-quality roughage both lead to fewer methane emissions than the mix currently given by most farmers (Muller et al. 2016: 28 f.). Is has to be stressed, however, that the focus of studies published in the vicinity of the EU (cf. Frank et al. 2019: 3; Martineau et al. 2016: 140–146) or the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (cf. Gerber et al. 2013: 48) lies on feed additives rather than high-quality food as they are much cheaper. The second mitigation option discussed by these sources is a raise in animals’ productivity. The problem with both these options is that they are either projected to have a low mitigation effect (Hart et al. 2017; Martineau et al. 2016: 140–146), have other negative effects on the environment or are possibly unsafe to animals. On top of that, it has not been ruled out yet that emissions from manure do not rise when emissions from enteric fermentation are lowered (Muller et al. 2016: 29, 68).

Regarding soil management, EU Member States and EU instructed research put an emphasis on two options: enhanced soil carbon sequestration and the use of nitrification inhibitors (NIs). Being the most prominent option, carbon sequestration is widely seen as vital for mitigation in the agricultural sector (cf. Hart et al. 2017; Gerber et al. 2013: 89). This is also reflected in the “4 per 1000 Initiative” which was launched by the French Minister of Agriculture, Agri-Food and Forestry Stéphane Le Foll during COP21 and is supported by a number of EU countries. Sequestration is the process by which carbon is bound in the soil. Criticism of the dominant role it plays in EU concepts highlights the point that GHG emissions are therefore not actually being mitigated through sequestration but rather re-directed. Sequestration is further non-permanent as GHGs bound up in soil can be re-emitted with certain land-use changes. Moreover, it is exhaustible as sequestration rates level off when saturation is reached (cf. Muller et al. 2016: 30).

NIs, the second popular measure in the area of soil management, slow down the rate of nitrification in soils and, therefore, limit the amount of nitrous oxide released. Different studies’ conclusions on the impact vary largely (Martineau et al. 2016: 156). In an assessment for the EC, Hugh Martineau et al. (2016) therefore calculate with an average reduction in nitrous oxide emissions of 39%, which is quite high compared to other mitigation measures, and recommend to the EU to cover farmers’ costs of applying NIs as part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They do not mention any potential risks (Martineau et al. 2016: 155–161). It has, however, not yet been proven that NIs, which are agrochemicals, do not have a negative impact on target and non-target organisms. Before the EU uses an approach relying heavily on NIs, there should, thus, be long-term studies proving that NIs not only have a high mitigation effect but are environmentally safe (cf. Muller et al. 2016: 28).

The only of the three direct sources with mitigation options available which are estimated to have a high impact and are environmentally safe is manure management. The discussion in the literature focuses on changes in the storage and handling of manure, for example changing the anaerobic conditions so that the generation of methane is reduced. Possible measures include the optimization of manure heaps, the separation of solids and slurry as well as manure storage in closed tanks. The level of impact is estimated to lie between a reduction of one third and three quarters, without any negative side effects on the environment (Muller et al. 2016: 68).

The business-as-usual approach enshrined, e.g., in the CAP is still mainly concerned with productivity and efficiency. Even in a scenario with medium mitigation ambitions in the agricultural sector, the EC fears “considerable” (EC 2016b: 70) impacts on production levels and, therefore, attributes the sector a lower mitigation potential than others (EC 2016b: 70). This limits agricultural mitigation measures to technical interventions such as changing livestock feed composition, improving efficiency, applying nitrification inhibitors or changing conditions of manure storage and handling – mostly measures that have a low impact or are possibly unsafe. Considering that manure management is only responsible for 15% of direct EU agricultural emissions, it is highly problematic that this is the only area with safe and efficient mitigation measures in place. Just as problematic is the heavy reliance on sequestration and the connected avoidance of actual emissions reductions.
Unsurprisingly, the amount of mitigation achieved in the EU agriculture sector so far is strikingly insufficient. In a scenario with no further policy action, the EU is projected to reduce its agricultural emissions by no more than 2.4% by 2030 compared to 2005, while what would be necessary to reach the intermediate 2030 target is a reduction of 28% (Muller et al. 2016: 51).

Furthermore, it has been found that the current CAP is inadequate in addressing SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 6 (clean water), SDG 8 (green growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production) and proves thereby “incapable” (Pe’er et al. 2017: 12) of achieving SDG 13 (climate action) (Pe’er et al. 2017: 12).

4 Holistic Approach

Before the background of the current EU agricultural policy’s shortcomings, there is a rising number of actors demanding a turn away from business-as-usual – mirrored, e.g., in the annual demonstration called “Wir haben es satt” (equivalent to: “We’re fed up with it”) in Berlin, organized by the German action alliance “Meine Landwirtschaft” (“My agriculture”). In 2019, not only were there several ten thousand people taking part in the demonstration but also around 170 farmers with their tractors supporting the cause – “more than ever before” (Leister 2019; translation J.E.). The alliance calls for a major turnaround in agriculture: away from EU subsidies for agribusiness, towards peasant agriculture and “real climate protection” (Meine Landwirtschaft 2019; translation J.E.). This is directly connected to calls for a broader outlook on the food system – a ‘holistic approach’ as it is called in this paper – by civil society actors (cf. Pe’er et al. 2017) as well as research institutions such as the Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy, Food and Consumer Health Protection of the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture (cf. WBAE 2018: IX), bringing into view sources of GHG emissions that are overlooked by the business-as-usual approach.

Agriculture-related emissions arise along the whole food chain, not only on the farm, and they are far higher than the emissions taken into account by the EU at the moment. These indirect GHG emissions come from the energy-intensive production of synthetic fertilizers and plant protection products, from soil carbon losses through land-use and land-use change, from food processing, retail, food wastage as well as from land-use change abroad caused by imported food and feed (cf. Muller et al. 2016: 26). In the following analysis, I will concentrate on the last two. On the one hand, this is due to reasons of limited space. The choice of food wastage and land-use change abroad, on the other hand, is due to the fact that these are by far the biggest sources of indirect GHG emissions related to agriculture, at least as far as can be judged by the limited data available. I do not mean to imply that a holistic approach should neglect the other factors. Rather, the analysis of the two biggest indirect sources is supposed to show the striking shortcomings of the business-as-usual perspective and, thereby, also point out the enormous potential lying within a holistic approach, especially when applied to all indirect sources.

By far the biggest source of indirect agricultural emissions is food wastage which can be understood as “the decrease in quantity or quality of food along the food supply chain” (FAO 2019: xii), occurring at the retail and consumption level: around 240 million tonnes of food are wasted in the EU each year (Muller et al. 2016: 27), a considerable percentage of all the food produced in the EU. This causes GHG emissions of around 500 Mt CO2-eq per year which is about the same amount as the overall direct non-CO2 emissions caused by EU agriculture. So far, these emissions arising along the food chain are reported in the respective sector: e.g., the emissions connected to food wasted during transportation are accounted for as emissions from the transport sector, emissions arising from the end of life-processing of wasted food are accounted for as emissions from the waste sector and so on (Muller et al. 2016: 69). However, food wastage is directly connected to the way the food system works – influenced, e.g., by the aesthetic standards directed at foodstuffs from consumers or the long food-supply chains (EP 2017: 75., 79., 80.). It is, therefore, only reasonable to include these emissions in an account of overall agriculture-related emissions.

The second biggest indirect source of agricultural emissions is the land-use and land-use change caused by imported food and feed. This so-called ‘embodied deforestation’ (Muller et al. 2016: 26) causes the conversion of around half a million hectares of land per year which leads to 160 to 230 Mt CO2-eq per year, equivalent to 35 to 50% of direct EU agricultural emissions. The largest part of this is the clearing of forests for soybeans or other feed crops and the conversion of grasslands to pastures for grazing (Cuypers et al. 2013; Muller et al. 2016: 26). In other words, these emissions are indirectly caused by meat consumption in the EU, which is at around 68 kg per capita per year (EC 2017: 47). They are, thus, as much connected to the European food system as are emissions from food wastage and should be reported as part of agriculture-related emissions in the EU. The amount of emissions caused by these land-use changes drastically increases the relevance of meat consumption for EU agricultural mitigation. This is reflected in the fact that there is already a number of studies proposing that the EU will not be able to meet its climate targets without a rigorous reduction in meat consumption (cf. Bryngelsson et al. 2016).

Considering the scope of indirect agricultural GHG emissions, it is not only reasonable but necessary to address the sources of these emissions as part of agricultural mitigation policy.

The possible measures directed at the problem of food wastage can be arranged hierarchically, calculated according to their GHG footprint (Moult et al. 2018). After the complete avoidance of any surplus food coming about, the best option for edible surplus food is to be donated to food banks for human consumption. Jessica A. Moult et al. (2018), thus, recommend for all food fit for human usage to be treated as such. If avoidance is not possible, food waste has to be disposed of. The best option for such disposal is anaerobic digestion, followed by conversion to animal feed, incineration with energy recovery or aerobic composting. Landfills of any kind have the worst GHG footprint compared to the other options and are therefore the least preferable (Moult et al. 2018).

Policy measures should, therefore, first and foremost aim at the avoidance of food wastage. However, as Reynolds et al. (2019) point out, the effectiveness of corresponding measures is gravely understudied. The authors call it “worrying” (Reynolds et al. 2019) that options such as cooking classes, fridge cameras or food sharing apps are being recommended with hardly any quantifiable evidence assuring their success. They do, however, identify three approaches the effectiveness of which is supported by robust data: changes in the size or type of plates in hospitality environments have a reduction effect of up to 57%; nutritional guidelines in schools achieved a reduction of vegetable waste of up to 28%; and information campaigns generated a food waste reduction of up to 28% as well (cf. Reynolds et al. 2019).

In the case of second-degree avoidance, in a study conducted for the Nordic Council of Ministers, Irmelin Gram-Hanssen et al. (2016) find that there is considerable lack of knowledge regarding the legal obligations of actors involved in food donation for human consumption: nearly one-third of food-serving and redistribution actors feel insecure regarding food safety regulations pertaining to their part of activity. Especially for potential food donors, this insecurity is a major hindrance to food donation. The authors, therefore, recommend to authorities to co-operate with food redistributors and donors to develop guidelines for food safety, thereby closing the knowledge gap (cf. Gram-Hanssen et al. 2016: 11, 35).

Gram-Hanssen et al. (2016: 9) also stress that the food redistribution sector is dominated by volunteer systems with fragile financial infrastructure. Fiscal instruments such as tax benefits to food donors and redistributors can help move towards more sustainable business models – a recommendation backed by a comparative study on EU Member States’ legislation on food waste (cf. O’Connor et al. 2014: 62). The suggestion is also in line with Simone Busetti (2019) who finds that policies aiming to reduce (second degree) food wastage should not only support donors but also food rescue organizations.
Several of these findings are mirrored in a European Parliament (EP) resolution on improving resource efficiency. The EP (2017) demands from the EC to prioritize donation for human consumption, engage in awareness-raising, identify legislation hindering the redistribution of food waste, institutionalize financial support for food banks and reduce taxes on food donations – demands which can be directly connected to the research listed above. Other demands to the Commission include investigating the effectiveness of ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ labeling and, if necessary, re-designing the labels to enhance consumer understanding, promoting a weekly leftovers day and establishing an EU-wide monitoring process on the food wastage in Member States. On a more general level, the EP calls for a coordinated policy response by all EU Member States. At the same time, however, the resolution states “that the European Parliament has repeatedly asked the Commission to take action against food waste” (EP 2017) with very limited success.

Research on the connection between dietary choices, the mitigation potential of the agricultural sector and possible policy options is rather scarce. One of the most comprehensive approaches to how to use the mitigation capacity of dietary changes comes from Helen Harwatt (2019). Starting from the proposition that “[i]naction in the livestock sector would require substantial GHG reductions, far beyond what are planned or realistic, from other sectors” (Harwatt 2019), the author proposes a three-step strategy for policymakers to shift diets from animal to plant-based proteins. Firstly, Harwatt (2019) calls for policymakers to announce ‘peak livestock’ and commit to reducing livestock numbers starting from now on. In a second step, a ‘worst first’ approach would be applied by which the highest GHG emitting foods are substituted first, followed by the next largest source of emissions. Thirdly, she recommends the ‘best available food’ strategy, a concept borrowed from the pollution control concept ‘best available technology’. Therein, the replacement options should be assessed against a range of environmental and nutritional criteria and the ones with the best scores chosen. Following this approach, beans are a good replacement for beef because they contain the same amount of protein, more iron and calcium, no cholesterol and have a similar profile of amino acids. At the same time, they produce 46 times less GHG emissions. An advantage of the three-step plan proposed is that it does not only have to be implemented by policymakers but can also be adopted by sub-national state actors as well as food producers and retailers regarding their production and purchasing choices. On a policy level, Harwatt (2019) calls for a restructuring of subsidies in the food sector to ensure shifts according to the two named principles, training for food producers, financial incentives for food manufacturers so as to make producing meat substitutes more attractive and food education as part of schools’ and universities’ curricula (Harwatt 2019: 535–538).

In a recent Special Report on the interconnection between climate change, land-use and the food system, the IPCC (2019) has also taken up the topic of diet changes and suggests to authorities to factor environmental costs into food (cf. IPCC 2019: 32). An idea as to what this could look like in practice stems from Wisdom Dogbe and José M. Gil (2018) who suggest imposing taxes on consumption rather than on production. This proposed solution has the advantage that it does not decrease the competitiveness of domestic compared to imported products and thereby answers to fears of leakage. The researchers also point out that aiming at different eating behaviors through taxation is not new and has in fact been done several times by European countries invoking health reasons with considerable success (Dogbe/Gil 2018: 235).

5 Conclusion

If the EU wants to meet its own climate targets, it will have to step up efforts regarding all sectors including agriculture. However, while the official EU line is that it is taking climate mitigation in the agricultural sector very seriously, the measures actually taken or planned lag far behind what is necessary. This is to a large part due to the current approach taken towards the food system: non-CO2 emissions originating directly from farms are reported separately from CO2 and non-CO2 emissions connected to processes preceding and following what is happening on farms. Only the former are reported as agricultural emissions while the rest vanishes in the books because they are being mistaken for emissions from other sectors such as transport or waste.

This business-as-usual approach closes its eyes to enormous amounts of GHG emissions connected to the food system and focuses on emissions from natural processes only. It, thereby, limits mitigation action in breadth and scope to minor technical interventions on the supply side including changed livestock feed, heightened livestock productivity, and application of agrochemicals. It relies on lowering ambitions regarding the agricultural sector while to a large part achieving the minor emissions reductions agreed to through non-permanent, exhaustible carbon sequestration rather than through mitigation. This approach is not compatible with the 2050 carbon neutrality strived for and neglects other aims on the global agenda such as SDG 3, 10 and 12.

The call voiced in this paper for a change in perspective towards a holistic approach, therefore, does not only have theoretical implications. Such a change would enable policymakers to identify a large amount of GHG emissions connected to the food system which originate far away from European farms, especially the food wastage by private consumers and the land-use and land-use change connected to animal feed. In a first step, such an approach is thereby necessary to come to a wholesome understanding of the problem which can then, in a second step, be thoroughly addressed. Even though the research in this field is still incomplete, it is evident that there is a considerable repertoire of promising policy measures entailed by the approach. To name just a few, food wastage can be addressed through information campaigns regarding the nutritional value and the carbon footprint of foodstuffs as well as through financial support and legal advice for redistribution actors. Meat consumption can be addressed by firstly showing the political will in form of a ‘peak livestock’ announcement, followed by taxes on the consumption of ruminant meat and milk products according to a ‘worst first’ approach and the promotion of alternatives following a ‘best available food’ strategy. Furthermore, there is considerable room for investigation in which measures and pieces of legislation are actually useful and which are obstructive, and for corresponding policy adaptations.

Such a change from business-as-usual to a holistic perspective does not only hold promises for EU agricultural mitigation but also for the accomplishment of the eradication of poverty and hunger, the promotion of health and well-being, the insurance of sustainable water and sanitation, the combat of climate change and the protection and restoration of terrestrial ecosystems (IPCC 2019: 21) – SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 13 and 15 – while being inherently in line with SDG 12, sustainable consumption and production.
When it comes to climate mitigation, environmental protection and the promotion of worldwide equity, every missed chance today will make efforts much more difficult and expensive in the future. It is necessary for the EU to re-think its approach towards agricultural mitigation right now. Or, to put it in the words of Francesco Rocca (2019: 1), President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: “We all know the cost of doing nothing is far, far too high. So now is the time to act”.



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