The “Commission for the Future of Agriculture” was established by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet in 2020 as a last-ditch effort to involve the farming sector in the government’s efforts to achieve climate neutral transformation. Agriculture had been thrust into the limelight as a result of droughts and farmer protests, and the commission was intended to bring climate campaigners and farmers together to finally reach a consensus on a solution. Almost a year later, the outcomes include several initiatives – as well as their associated costs – to integrate agriculture within Germany’s 2045 climate neutrality agenda. Detailed in this factsheet are the commission’s climate-related recommendations and estimates, which are likely to be incorporated into the next government’s agriculture policy following the 2021 elections.
Because of a variety of factors, the German agricultural industry has long been neglected when it comes to climate action and emission reductions, including: The agricultural sector’s overall contribution to Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 9 percent of total emissions in 2020) is small when compared to the energy industry or the transportation sector, and farming has been deemed difficult to “decarbonize” because many emissions related to animals, soil, and food are difficult to avoid or reduce as long as current eating habits are in place. Over the past few years, this has shifted dramatically. As a result of Germany’s new goal of becoming “climate neutral” by 2045, it has become crystal clear that all sectors must strive for a zero-emissions future, because all efforts at carbon uptake and sequestration will be required for those emissions that are truly unavoidable.
Agriculture-related emissions in Germany have decreased by around 24% since 1990, owing mostly to a reduction in livestock numbers following German reunification in reunification. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural land use and land use changes account for 4.4 percent of Germany’s total emissions, according to the European Commission.
A carbon budget of 56 million tonnes CO2 equivalents is established by Germany’s Climate Action Law for the agricultural sector in 2030, according to the German Climate Action Law (down from 70 mt in 2020). For example, the Climate Action Programme 2030 includes measures such as reducing nitrogen surpluses in agricultural lands, strengthening the fermentation of animal manure, expanding Organic Farming, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in livestock farming, as well as promoting carbon storage potentials in agricultural lands, for example, through the development of humus build-up.
In what capacity does Germany’s Commission for the Future of Agriculture function, and why was it created?
Recent years and months have seen a tentative shift in some of the distribution criteria for the significant support payments provided to farmers in the European Union, as both the European Union and the German government have begun to experiment with new approaches. Farmers will no longer get subsidies based on the amount of land they cultivate, but will instead be required to adopt more and more environmentally and climate-friendly methods in exchange for the financial assistance.
However, environmental and climate activists believe that these changes are too little, too late, and are calling for more significant changes in the sector, such as a reduction in the number of animals kept, a reduction in the use of nitrogen fertilizer, and a reduction in international trade in animal feed, among other things. The European Commission’s Farm to Fork plan, which will be published in 2020 and aspires for nothing less than the total transformation of the EU’s food system, has given them a boost in their efforts.
Many farmers, on the other hand, who were already feeling the pressure of increasing bureaucracy and the market power of large food corporations, took to the streets in a rage at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 to demonstrate their opposition to the government’s environmentally friendly policies.
In order to find common ground and shape policies that are acceptable to both sides in the future, the German government established a “Commission for the Future of Agriculture” (Zukunftskommission Landwirtschaft, ZKL) in July 2020, which was tasked with developing a proposal for an agricultural and food system that is ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable.
It was announced on July 6, 2021, that the committee’s final report was released. The commission was comprised of 31 farmer and consumer representatives, as well as members from environmental organizations and scholars. Despite a great deal of antagonism between the different groups within the commission, the ZKL members unanimously agreed on the outcome of the investigation. As a result of the commission’s work, it is intended that the report will serve as a shared starting point for future policies – policies that, in principle, have been agreed by all parties involved. The ZKL might reach a similar level of success as the 2019 coal commission report, which was important in kicking off the country’s coal phaseout.