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Agriculture, climate change and rural development: when agriculture plays a role in climate change mitigation

Agriculture is estimated to be responsible for 9% of total Green House Gases (GHG) emissions, and at the same time is a potential sink for carbon sequestration into soils. There is a need to analyse agricultural practices in terms of mitigation potential in order to provide farmers with advice and incentives on the best land management options as regard to climate change.

Agriculture, climate change and rural development: when agriculture plays a role in climate change mitigation In the Kyoto and post-Kyoto Protocol contexts, the European Commission wants the agricultural sector to contribute to the cutting of greenhouse gases emissions. The Policy Incentives for Climate Change Mitigation Agricultural Techniques (PICCMAT) research project (DG RTD/FP6), launched in January 2007, aims to identify farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to suggest policy instruments to support the necessary changes in land management to stakeholders and policy makers. Ten European organisations, bringing together internationally recognised experts in the agriculture and environment field, will work jointly for two years on this project, co-financed by the European Commission. * * * Climate change is one of the main concerns of our modern civilisation. Agriculture, like every human activity, has an impact on climate and, as a consequence, must seek solutions to mitigate this impact. Agriculture is commonly estimated to be responsible for 9% of total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. Indeed, farming needs fossil fuel energy (for machinery, for fertilisers and pesticides manufacturing, for heating of buildings and processing of products, etc.), farming releases methane (CH4) from soils (for example by draining of peat soils, or by the use of water in rice production), and farming practices also release nitrous oxide (N2O) from soils. Globally, agriculture is the main source of nitrous oxide and methane emissions to the atmosphere, two major greenhouse gases. On the other hand, there is a large potential for climate change mitigation in agriculture through carbon sequestration into soils. One of the priorities of the EC Rural Development Strategy 2007-2013 is to support actions to mitigate climate change. This includes actions favouring major changes in land use, such as a switch to growing biomass crops, afforestation or significant changes in livestock production approaches. However, less substantial changes to existing agricultural practices towards optimised land management can also have a positive climate change mitigating effect, while also being beneficial to soil condition. This includes for example zero- or reduced-tillage techniques, use of deep-rooting crops, different types of set-aside, conversion of arable to grassland (including field strips), improved rotations, winter cover, maintenance of terraces etc. These smaller-scale measures, that can be widely applied at individual farm level, form the focus of the PICCMAT project. The PICCMAT project, initiated by the European Commission through its sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, has been developed by an international consortium of research and consulting organisations covering ten European countries. After an EU-wide screening of the existing scientific literature, the team members will assess the effectiveness (feasibility and cost efficiency) for climate change mitigation of a range of possible changes to land management practices. The most promising mitigation options will then be tested in the field through case-studies in six European agricultural regions*, with the aim to identify potential barriers to their implementation and the best incentives the Commission could propose. The PICCMAT partners will then formulate policy recommendations for an introduction into the Common Agricultural Policy, focusing on two types of policy incentives: funding via agri-environmental measures (Rural Development Regulation) or obligation of implementation through the cross-compliance system (in which farmers receive their complete annual subsidies only if they respect certain environmental constraints). The project is closely followed by the European Commission DG Research and an Advisory Board consisting of stakeholders, EC DG agriculture and DG Environment, and scientists. Consultation with stakeholders and communication of the results to the interested public will be a key element of PICCMAT: stakeholders, in particular farmers and environmental organisations, will be engaged at an early stage of the project. The general public will also be informed on the project issues, especially through the project website: For more information please visit our website or contact Olivier Beucher, from Baastel, coordinator of the project ( *Case-studies will be completed in Poland, Denmark, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Bulgaria.


Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, United Kingdom