James Crisp. Freelance journalist in Brussels.

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MEPs vote to cap some agricultural emissions, but not cow burps

The European Parliament today (28 October) backed proposed caps on methane and ammonia in draft legislation to reduce air pollution, setting up tough negotiations with the Council of Ministers over the bill. 

But, after pressure from Europe’s farming lobby, MEPs gave an exemption to enteric methane.

Enteric methane is mostly caused by animals like cows burping. It represents a “significant share of methane emissions” from agriculture, according to the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). It was not covered by the European Commission’s proposal in any case, EurActiv was told by Parliament sources.

Methane is a more short-lived but much more powerful global-warming greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It also transforms into ozone, an air pollutant. Ammonia causes soil nitrification and acidification, and transforms naturally to become fine particles harmful to human health.

Agriculture, which has a notoriously powerful lobby and is heavily subsidised by the EU, is responsible for 40% of methane emissions in the EU and 95% of ammonia pollution, according to the EEB.

MEPs were voting in Strasbourg on a report by the Parliament’s Environment Committee on the revised National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive, which limits different types of air pollution in each EU nation.

Air pollution is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 citizens a year. The bill caps six major pollutants – nitrogen oxides (NOX), particular matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3) and non-methane volatile organic compounds.

The Environment Committee had strengthened targets in the European Commission’s original proposal. It is the first time the Commission has tried to cap methane. The executive is pushing for a 30% methane reduction by 2030, which was backed by the Environment Committee, and a 27% ammonia cut, which MEPs increased to 29%.

But amendments passed by the Parliament today mean that the 29% was watered back down to 27%.

The ammonia target was opposed by some MEPs, notably the European People’s Party. The EPP, the largest group in the Parliament branded the cap as unrealistically tough.

Methane emissions would be covered by separate EU legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions, they said during the debate.

MEPs voted to include ammonia and methane and for binding 2025 targets to ensure countries were on track for 2030 goals.

The Parliament’s Agriculture Committee had called for the methane and ammonia targets to be dropped from the legislation before the vote.Despite that, the Environment Committee report on the NEC Directive was narrowly passed by the committee ahead of today’s vote. 38 voted in favour, 28 against, and two abstained.

Before today’s vote, Copa-Cogeca, a Brussels-based lobby association representing European farmers and agri-cooperatives, emailed MEPs. It warned that production would be shifted outside of the EU, if stronger targets backed by the Environment Committee became law.

>>Read: Farming lobby to MEPs: We will quit EU if emissions capped

Realistic targets

Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told MEPs today, “To move forward, sectors that have so far done little will need to do more. […]Efforts are needed from all sectors, including the agriculture industry. What we are after is better and healthier agriculture.”

Vella said there was absolutely no need to alter the structure or reduce the number of animals to hit the targets in the Commission proposal.

He poured cold water on claims by some MEPs that methane cuts would force animals to be kept inside, to the detriment of their welfare.

Governments such as the UK had also told MEPs they were against the bolstered bill.

Tough negotiations ahead

Before the bill can become law, an identical text must be agreed by the Parliament with the Council of Ministers.

Environment ministers on 15 June demanded flexibility in meeting EU air quality targets, after dropping a cap on methane emissions from their version of the draft pollution rules.

>>Read: Whole story on EurActiv.

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This entry was posted on October 30, 2015 by in Agriculture, Climate Change, Environment, Journalism and tagged , , , .

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