Linkages at International, National and Local Levels
Edited by Frank Maes, An Cliquet, Willemien du Plessis and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray
Chapter 13: The contribution of the EU Common Agricultural Policy to protecting biodiversity and global climate in Europe
In Europe, the role of agriculture (including cattle-farming) in protecting biodiversity and global climate has been ambivalent.1 On the one hand, the gradual expansion of agriculture at the expense of the huge pre- existing forest cover in major parts of Europe since the early Middle Ages has been the source of the present state of plant and animal species and resulted in a considerable increase of biodiversity. On the other hand, modern agriculture, with its extensive use of heavy machinery, fertilizers and plant protection products, the preference for large plots, the cultiva- tion of ecologically problematic plants, including biomass plants, and the intensive use of grassland, constitutes a major threat to biodiversity. This is particularly true in high yield areas. The abandonment of agriculture on marginal land due to economic factors also constitutes an important element of this negative development. Modern agriculture also causes additional releases of greenhouse gases, such as laughing-gas, methane and carbon dioxide, from soils and cattle and compromises the functioning of agricultural land as a sink for carbon dioxide. Major factors in this respect are the mass keeping of animals, land-use changes and cultivation methods, especially turning-up of grassland land, draining of wet and moorlands, deep ploughing and spraying of synthetic fertilizers. Although the absorption and retention functions of Europe’s forests that cover a major part of land in Europe may be higher, agricultural land remains of crucial importance in this respect. It is to be noted that there are also synergic effects between the impairment of biological diversity and climate stability.
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