Brussels works to defuse green policy opposition

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The EU will try to build trust through dialogue, including with farmers, before deciding its next emissions-cutting target, the bloc’s climate chief said, as Brussels reckons with the sector’s angry protests ahead of EU elections.

The European Commission on Tuesday recommended the EU set a target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040 to curb climate change.

Agriculture contributes more than 10% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

“What we deliberately didn’t do is make this specifically about one sector or the next,” EU Climate Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra told Reuters.

Tuesday’s proposal intends to start a conversation to “build the trust and support” before any final decision is taken on the climate change target, Hoekstra said.

“We want to have a dialogue with SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses), with industry… with farmers but also with everyone who is part of the ecosystem of farming,” he said.

The EU executive at the last minute scrapped an indication of how much agriculture will need to contribute to the climate target, after weeks of protests by farmers and ahead of EU elections in June, when the far-right, which is competing with other parties for votes from farmers, is seen making gains.

The EU’s analysis found agriculture’s non-CO2 emissions must drop by 30% by 2040 to comply with the overall 90% emissions target. That figure was cut from Tuesday’s announcement, although it was included in a technical analysis of the goal.

In response to the farmers’ protests, the EU has withdrawn a law to reduce the use of pesticides, delayed green targets on fallow land and launched dialogue with farming sector representatives to dispel the perception that Brussels is out of touch with their struggles.

Farming lobby COPA-COGECA, which has been fiercely critical of previous EU green measures welcomed the EU 2040 climate target on Tuesday. “A dialogue with farmers has finally been chosen,” the group said in a statement.

Climate campaigners by contrast criticised the absence of an emissions target specifically for agriculture as short-sighted, saying delaying action would expose farmers to more destructive droughts and floods fuelled by global warming.