The farmers’ protests in Europe are a harbinger of the next big political challenge in global climate action: How to grow food without further damaging Earth’s climate and biodiversity.
On Tuesday, after weeks of intense protests in several cities across the continent, came the most explicit sign of that difficulty. The European Union’s top official, Ursula von der Leyen, abandoned an ambitious bill to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and softened the European Commission’s next raft of recommendations on cutting agricultural pollution.
“We want to make sure that in this process, the farmers remain in the driving seat,” she said at the European Parliament. “Only if we achieve our climate and environmental goals together will farmers be able to continue to make a living.”
The farmers argue they’re being hit from all sides: high fuel costs, green regulations, unfair competition from producers in countries with fewer environmental restrictions.
Nonetheless, agriculture accounts for 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s impossible for the European Union to meet its ambitious climate targets, enshrined in law, without making dramatic changes to its agricultural system, including how farmers use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, as well as its vast livestock industry.
It also matters politically. Changing Europe’s farming practices is proving to be extremely difficult, particularly as parliamentary elections approach in June. Farmers are a potent political force, and food and farming are potent markers of European identity.
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