A coherent European Green Deal for the next generations

By Volker Koch-Achelpohler, Head Public Affairs, Science and Sustainability for EMEA and Bayer AG, CropScience Division.

The European Green deal is a fine political ambition but it is first and foremost a policy imperative if we are striving to live within our planetary boundaries.

There has never been a greater urgency to address environmental degradation. With its 450 million (prosper) consumers single market governed by a stable rule of law, the European Union has the power to make a strong impact and lead by example. And while the implications of climate change are still abstract to some, we cannot deny the importance of the European Green Deal for the generations to come. It is a pivotal moment in the history of mankind; and we won’t have a second chance to make it right.

We must acknowledge the extraordinarily difficult task it is for policy-makers to reconcile all these ambitions into one coherent set of policies and legislations.

Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, circular economies, food security, trade are all deeply interconnected challenges and agriculture is centrally embedded in this nexus.

Improving the resilience and sustainability of agriculture cannot be overstated. It is utterly clear that we must improve conservation and production at the same time. It is not one or the other. It is has to be both. To be successful, we will have to overcome this fundament paradox of agriculture.

I sincerely believe that our best hopes rest with our innovation potential. Without modern crop protection solutions, integrated weed management, new breeding techniques, digital agriculture and carbon farming, there will be no reduction in environmental impact. On the contrary we will see an acceleration in environmental degradation, as the world population is growing and more people access the middle class.

At Bayer, we see room for transformational change in agriculture. If we can deploy the use of cover crops, no-till agriculture, integrated weed management and digital agriculture on a large scale, we can reach carbon neutrality in agriculture before any other sector and dramatically reduce our environmental impact on soil and water resources.

All these solutions will depend on the policies that will enact in the next two years.

Shifting to the next level of sustainability practices requires a smart mix of incentives, large scale public investment and predictable risk-based regulation based on evidence and science.

We must be more precise about what we want to protect and what we want to achieve. Here, I believe the planetary boundaries concept is essential to guide the EU policy action. If climate change is the mother of all battles, we must put in place policies that will reduce our land use and resource consumption. What we decide in Europe will inevitably have repercussions across the globe, so let’s not offshore our environmental impact. If we deplete our farmers’ toolbox and cannot sustainably intensify our agriculture in Europe, we will continue to rely heavily on agricultural imports. If we no longer allow the imports from Genetically Modified Organisms or much needed crop protection solutions in tropical areas, we can expect a very strong increase in land use in those biodiversity rich countries. While painful, we must stay realistic when it comes to understand those relationships of causes and effects.

If we do not want the European Green Deal to be a curse for the environment, we must deal with the reality of current trade-offs between imports, domestic production and the consumption patterns of our citizens.

In conclusion, there is too much at stake to put our head in the sand and hide behind the tribal debates that dominate much of the political conversation around agriculture. We can only wish that the upcoming political debates move away abstract targets and focus on how to deploy sustainable practices such as conservation agriculture, carbon sequestration in soils, environmental impact reductions measures and precision agriculture. The clock is running. It is time to act.