The age of Climate Change requires resilient agroecosystems
The European agricultural sector will face enormous changes in the coming decades. Large-scale landscape transformation and change in agricultural technologies will be critically required.
The IPCC published its sixth assessment report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability to Climate Change in February 2022. It states with high confidence that in Europe all types of ecosystems will change in their structure, food chains, and time-regulated ecological processes. Climate impacts on food systems will be diverse (some positive, some negative) but on human health and urban systems, the effects will be largely negative. In European food systems, “losses in crop production, due to compound heat and dry conditions, and extreme weather” are to be expected. Not surprisingly, the magnitude of the negative impacts will be proportional to the degree of warming that occurs.
This report indicates that the European agricultural sector will face enormous changes in the coming decades. Some of those changes might even be positive — most likely, in the northern regions — but large-scale landscape transformation and change in agricultural technologies are required everywhere. Adaptation to these new conditions is crucial.
First, European agriculture needs to recognize its crucial role among the drivers of climate change. Farming emits Green House Gases through land use and changes in land use (LULUCF), as well as by chemical inputs (e.g., fertilizers). A significant move towards more sequestration and fewer inputs is inevitable — and the sooner, the better.
Second, European agriculture has to prepare for major changes due to adaptation. As the main threat to European agriculture will be disruption to water cycles — more droughts, heavy rainfall, and other extreme weather events, among others — keeping soil water content is the first and most important task in changing our agricultural systems. Apart from climate adaptation, this would also contribute significantly to biodiversity protection and contribute to the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030.
At the same time, the current financial subsidy system — defying multiple strategies — openly supports keeping European farming as it is. In other words, high-intensity monocultures, low crop diversity, and high concentration of farmland ownership. This strategy will have disastrous consequences as the subsidy system prevents farmers from adapting even if they realize that action must be taken toward more climate-resilient farming.