Greening the CAP with ecosystem services

Anne (A.M.) van Doorn Dick (Th.C.P.) Melman

Recently two studies  have been published, one about the state of biodiversity on agricultural land (Oppermann 2015) and another one about the implementation choices for CAP greening by Member states (Hart 2015). Both studies were commissioned by the European Environmental Bureau and their message was clear: the greening of the CAP will fail to make a positive impact on the biodiversity on Europe's farms. This lack of effect is widely perceived by both environmentalists and farmers organizations. Hopefully the disappointment will not turn into a loss of sense of urgency for the greening of agricultural policies, as the need is high for a more sustainable agriculture delivering public goods (EEA 2015). If the promises of a green CAP are  to be fulfilled, we believe that the values of ecosystems and biodiversity have to be expressed much more explicit in the policy and decision making process.

In the coming years, monitoring and evaluation of the greening measures will reveal whether the forecasted lack of effectiveness becomes reality. If so, it will be hard for the EU commissioner for agriculture Hogan to defend the great share of agricultural expenditure on the EU budget. The pressure to deliver the promises of sustainable agriculture will increase,  the call to spend public money on realizing public goods will be stronger. Although little positive impact is expected, the principle of greening of agricultural policy has been put down in the heart of the EU-policy. The challenge is now to move from green washing towards a simple but effective system that will really lead to a greener agriculture in Europe. The question is how to realize this?

For the Dutch Environment Agency we explored pathways to green the CAP through the use of s of ecosystem services and natural capital. We conclude that these concepts offer an interesting framework for the next reform. In that way the CAP can will also align with the European strategy for biodiversity (EC 2011) which determines that ecosystem services are mapped and protected in all Member States. The concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services provide a solid basis to mainstream the values of biodiversity and ecosystems into decision-making at all governance levels. The TEEB initiative has set up a structured approach to recognize and value the wide range of benefits provided by ecosystems and biodiversity. It also tries to capture those values in decision-making.

While monetary markets function well for provisioning services like primary production, markets fail when it comes to regulation services (e.g. keeping up soil fertility), supporting services (e.g. pollination and natural pest control) or cultural services (e.g. landscape scenery and habitat provisioning). These kind of services are non-rival and non-excludable, they are public and it is very hard to organize monetary markets. Where markets fail, public policies have a role to play, whether or not in combination with private mechanisms.

Quantifying and valuation of the public goods and ecosystem services can be of importance in each phase of the CAP policy process: in the agenda-setting, the policy design, the decision making and the implementation. This role might be different for each phase and also the required level of detail for quantifying might differ per phase.  For the agenda setting of the next CAP reform,  global analyses of ecosystem services may be sufficient, while implementation of policy measures and comparison of alternatives a more detailed, time-consuming analysis might be necessary. Despite the many academic attempts that have been made, it is still very hard to quantify and express monetary values of ecosystem services in an underpinned and reliable way. Therefore it is necessary to define critically the role of valuation of ecosystem services in the policy process and the level of detail that is required.

Ultimately, the greening of the CAP could be transformed into a system that supports farmers to enhance the sustainable delivery of ecosystem services on their farm, by relating the CAP-payment to the magnitude of the farmers’ contribution. To make things work, the focus should be on agriculture-related ecosystem services, grouped in to bundles. We distinguish soil-related ecosystem services (water holding capacity, adaptive capacity of agro-ecosystems to diseases and extreme climate conditions, capture carbon stock, etc.), services that can be connected to field margins (water purification, pollination, pest control) and services related to landscape elements (landscape scenery, provision of habitat for wild species).

Next, as many ecosystem services are often region or even parcel-specific, generic policies will not work, so there should be room for a regionalised approach. As some services cannot be delivered on the level of a single farm but  at the regional level, we advocate collaboration between farmers to deliver jointly regional services, such as the ones related to landscape structure and habitat provision. In the Netherlands the agri-environment payments will from 2016 on only be spent by groups of farmers. Based on a regional agri-environment management plan, farmers collaborate to optimise their measures in the areas that are most promising for conserving and enhancing biodiversity. These management plans were traditionally mainly focused on preserving farmland birds, but will also be aimed at species of arable fields and green infrastructures.  The same approach could be adopted for the delivery of ecosystem services. We explored these ideas in two pilot-areas in the Netherlands in which a broad forum of stakeholders was represented and found that there is support to elaborate this approach.

It may seem lightyears away from the present situation: Greening the CAP by focussing on the delivery of ecosystem services by groups of farmers. But if greening EU agriculture is taken seriously, if we want to spend public money on public goods, exploring unconventional pathways will be necessary.


Oppermann 2015 Landscape Infrastructure and Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) Report on the investigation in 2014 Institute for Agroecology and Biodiversity (IFAB) Mannheim,     Germany

Hart K (2015), Green direct payments: implementation choices of nine Member States and      their environmental implications, IEEP London.

EEA 2015 The European environment — state and outlook 2015 Copenhagen

EC 2011 Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 COM EC           244/2011