`Report: Climate, Environmental Degradation Threaten European Food Security - Olive Oil Times

Report: Climate, Environmental Degradation Threaten European Food Security

By Costas Vasilopoulos
Feb. 16, 2023 18:44 UTC

The European Commission has pub­lished an analy­sis by var­i­ous com­mis­sion ser­vices on the main dri­vers affect­ing food secu­rity in European Union mem­ber states.

Food secu­rity is defined as when all peo­ple, at all times, have phys­i­cal and eco­nomic access to suf­fi­cient, safe and nutri­tious food that meets their dietary needs and food pref­er­ences for an active and healthy life.”

The analy­sis iden­ti­fied the effects of dif­fer­ent fac­tors on food secu­rity, includ­ing cli­mate change, bio­di­ver­sity loss and the degra­da­tion of the envi­ron­ment, the food sup­ply chain and polit­i­cal and socio-cul­tural fac­tors.

See Also:World Bank Investing Nearly €30B to Improve Global Food Security

Biophysical and envi­ron­men­tal dri­vers leave a major imprint on the land as the E.U.’s major resource for food pro­duc­tion, induc­ing land cover and land-use changes and thus affect­ing food pro­duc­tion sys­tems,” the commission’s analy­sis report said.

The analy­sis also found other ran­dom fac­tors, such as the Covid-19 pan­demic and Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine, can sig­nif­i­cantly dis­rupt food pro­duc­tion and sup­ply across the E.U.

The report pin­pointed the heavy use of chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides as a sig­nif­i­cant threat to food abun­dance in the European Union.

The cur­rent high input-inten­sive agri­cul­tural model, based on chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides, is likely to pose a food secu­rity threat in the medium term due to a loss of bio­di­ver­sity, the likely increase in pests, decline in soil health and loss of pol­li­na­tors which are essen­tial to agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion,” the report said.

The analy­sis report fur­ther esti­mated that the incurred costs from soil degra­da­tion alone in the E.U. total around €15 bil­lion per annum.

Environmental degra­da­tion

Environmental degra­da­tion refers to the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of the nat­ural envi­ron­ment due to var­i­ous human activ­i­ties such as pol­lu­tion, defor­esta­tion, soil ero­sion, and over­ex­ploita­tion of nat­ural resources. It is a sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal prob­lem that affects the plan­et’s nat­ural bal­ance, lead­ing to adverse impacts on the ecosys­tem, human health, and the econ­omy. Some of the com­mon forms of envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion include air pol­lu­tion, water pol­lu­tion, soil degra­da­tion, cli­mate change, and loss of bio­di­ver­sity. These issues often stem from human activ­i­ties like indus­tri­al­iza­tion, agri­cul­tural prac­tices, and urban­iza­tion. The neg­a­tive effects of envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion can be mit­i­gated through sus­tain­able devel­op­ment prac­tices that pro­mote the con­ser­va­tion of nat­ural resources and min­i­mize the impact of human activ­i­ties on the envi­ron­ment.

A com­bi­na­tion of actions to pro­mote sus­tain­able land and soil man­age­ment sup­port­ing at the same time dif­fer­ent land uses, such as hous­ing, agri­cul­ture, energy pro­duc­tion and tourism, is needed to make the reper­cus­sions of inten­sive agri­cul­ture less severe.

The analy­sis also indi­cated that south­ern Europe, par­tic­u­larly the Mediterranean region, suf­fers from water stress, warm­ing and deser­ti­fi­ca­tion.

With the cli­matic mod­els fore­cast­ing an increase of 2 ºC to 5 ºC in the com­ing decades if no mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures are taken, there is a grow­ing risk of mul­ti­ple emerg­ing threats to the area’s food pro­duc­tion.

For exam­ple, unnat­ural weather, pest out­breaks and inva­sive alien species may ulti­mately lead to prod­uct short­ages and higher food prices.

Strategies such as improv­ing soil health and water-reten­tion capac­ity, switch­ing to less water-demand­ing crops and apply­ing water-sav­ing irri­ga­tion sys­tems might sig­nif­i­cantly soften the impact of cli­mate change in the region.

Another threat to the E.U.’s food secu­rity stems from the aging farm­ing pop­u­la­tion, with only one in five farm man­agers under the age of 45 and fewer young peo­ple enter­ing the farm­ing busi­ness.


According to the com­mis­sion, mea­sures to alle­vi­ate the impact of cli­mate change on the con­ti­nen­t’s agri­cul­tural indus­try and reverse the decline in the E.U.’s farm­ing pop­u­la­tion are in place.

The com­mis­sion strives to improve the cur­rent level of resilience of E.U. agri­cul­ture as much as pos­si­ble using a vari­ety of approaches and tools,” a European Commission source told Olive Oil Times.

The E.U. adap­ta­tion strat­egy, the LULUCF Regulation [a group of bind­ing com­mit­ments to reduce green­house gas emis­sions in agri­cul­ture and forestry] and the new E.U. Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are instru­ments that can stim­u­late adap­ta­tion solu­tions and improve the resilience of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor to cli­mate risks,” the source added.

To bol­ster the resilience of our farm­ers, the new CAP aims to ensure a fair income for farm­ers, to improve the posi­tion of farm­ers in the food chain, to incen­tivize cli­mate action (includ­ing adap­ta­tion mea­sures), to sup­port gen­er­a­tional renewal and to fos­ter knowl­edge and inno­va­tion,” the source con­tin­ued.

The report noted that deploy­ing tech­nol­ogy in the E.U.’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor is also cru­cial in ensur­ing high out­put in food pro­duc­tion with a min­i­mal impact on nat­ural resources.

Novel tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tions could ben­e­fit the avail­abil­ity of food sup­ply by increas­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, reduc­ing crop losses and enhanc­ing food secu­rity.

However, cli­mate change could alter cul­ti­va­tion pat­terns, mainly in south­ern Mediterranean coun­tries.

While it is extremely dif­fi­cult to cor­rectly esti­mate the like­li­hood of shifts in the cul­ti­va­tion of spe­cific crops, it is cer­tain that cli­mate change affects European agri­cul­ture and requires agri­cul­tural sys­tems and farm­ers to adapt,” the source said.

The source added that crop pro­duc­tiv­ity is expected to decline in south­ern European regions and increase in the north. At the same time, more fre­quent extreme weather events will cause scat­tered and detri­men­tal impacts all across Europe.

Temperature increase and the related exten­sion of the grow­ing sea­son make the north­ward expan­sion of the cul­ti­va­tion of cer­tain annual and per­ma­nent crops pos­si­ble, thus poten­tially increas­ing crop yield,” the com­mis­sion said.

On the other hand, it can make the cul­ti­va­tion of cer­tain crops in other regions more dif­fi­cult or result in a sig­nif­i­cant yield reduc­tion due to heat stress,” it added.

Recent research has shown that the occur­rence of cli­mate-related extreme events (such as heat stress, drought, intense rain­fall) in the E.U. will likely increase pro­gres­sively with a notice­ably greater impact fore­seen in south-west­ern regions of the E.U.,” the com­mis­sion con­tin­ued.

For sev­eral months last year, Spain and Portugal, located on Europe’s south­west­ern tip, faced pro­longed dry weather that seri­ously dis­rupted crop pro­duc­tion, includ­ing the olive oil yield, in both Iberian coun­tries.

Meanwhile, last December, the com­mis­sion launched the Food Supply and Security Dashboard to pro­vide infor­ma­tion about indi­ca­tors affect­ing food secu­rity in the E.U., such as drought events, increas­ing freight and energy costs and ani­mal dis­ease out­breaks. The sys­tem will also dis­play data on exist­ing stocks of essen­tial agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties.

The commission’s analy­sis of E.U. food secu­rity con­cluded that food avail­abil­ity is not at stake in Europe today.

However, food afford­abil­ity is steadily becom­ing a con­cern for house­holds due to infla­tion push­ing prices higher. Furthermore, most mem­ber states imple­ment short-term sub­sidy pro­grams to sup­port house­holds in need instead of more gen­eral and future-proof pro­grams.

By def­i­n­i­tion, food secu­rity has a short-term dimen­sion: peo­ple must have access to food every day, not only tomor­row,” the report said. This requires poli­cies that enable food secu­rity in all its four dimen­sions to be guar­an­teed in the short run.”

Generally, a sys­temic approach’ is needed to solid­ify food secu­rity in the E.U. This approach should include actions in many dif­fer­ent sec­tors, includ­ing agri­cul­ture and fish­ery, cli­mate, envi­ron­ment and energy, research and inno­va­tion, trade, health and social.

Additionally, low-income house­holds should receive spe­cial atten­tion to ensure their access to every­day healthy and nutri­tious food.

The analy­sis under­lines that there is an inher­ent urgency to act,” the report said. In an uncer­tain and volatile con­text, the tran­si­tion to a sus­tain­able food sys­tem should con­tinue to guide the E.U.’s polit­i­cal, pol­icy and pro­gram action.”


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