The EU Agriculture Sector Contributed 15.3% of Total Global Agricultural Emissions in 2021

The EU is one of the world’s leading producers and net exporters of agriculture, making it unsurprising that agriculture makes up approximately 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The EU traditionally exports more agricultural products than it imports; in 2020, agriculture comprised 9.5% of the EU’s total exports while it comprised 7.1% of the EU’s total imports. In 2021, agriculture made up 1.3% of the EU’s GDP. Within the EU, France makes the largest agricultural contribution, followed by Italy and Spain. EU agriculture is dominated by livestock products, grains, vegetables, wines, fruits, and sugars.

Given that agriculture plays a notable role in the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, the EU must implement regulations that facilitate a green transition in this sector. According to data provided by Climate Trace, in 2021, the EU emitted 2.71 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), 8.42 million tonnes of methane (CH4), and 0.35 million tonnes of nitrous oxide (N2O). In 2020, the EU emitted similar amounts of these greenhouse gases, producing 2.73 million tonnes of CO2, 8.43 million tonnes of CH4, and 0.35 million tonnes of N2O. Therefore, while there was a slight decrease in CO2 and CH4 emissions, the EU’s agricultural emissions remained relatively static.

However, there was a notable decrease in CO2 and CH4 emissions when comparing 2021 EU data to 2015 EU data. The EU produced 3.78 million tonnes of CO2, 8.71 million tonnes of CH4, and 0.36 million tonnes of N2O in 2015, showing that between 2015 and more recent years, the EU’s increased focus on reducing emissions has led to new and reformed agricultural policies.

In light of the EU’s more ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 when compared to 1990 levels, one of the EU’s most notable agricultural policies in recent years has been its implementation of its Farm to Fork strategy. This strategy aims to make food systems fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly. It was launched by the European Commission in May 2020 and has the goal of redesigning the EU’s food systems so that they have a neutral or positive environmental impact and reverse the loss of biodiversity.  Some of the 2022 action points that were implemented as a part of the Farm to Fork strategy include the setting up of a Farm Sustainability Data Network, revision of the feed additives legislation to reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming, and revision of EU marketing standards for agriculture, fishery, and aquaculture products to ensure the uptake and supply of sustainable products. For each year, the EU has created a timeline that dictates when outlined goals should be completed, which breaks down larger sustainability goals into smaller, feasible actions.

Another notable agriculture reformation occurred in January 2020 when the European Commission indicated that 40% of the EU’s 2021-2027 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget would be devoted to climate action.  The CAP is the main set of EU regulations that ensures European food security and supports domestic production. In its 2020 communication, the European Commission stated that all direct CAP payments would be conditioned on enhanced environmental and climate requirements.  Both the Farm to Fork policy and this policy should continue to be implemented, monitored, and built upon to reduce the EU’s agricultural emissions.

Additionally, in 2021, all of the EU’s CO2 emissions came from cropland fires, while the majority of its CH4 emissions came from enteric fermentation. The majority of the EU’s N2O emissions came from synthetic fertilizer application, although N2O contributes a relatively small amount to the EU’s emissions when compared to CO2 and CH4. Thus, the EU’s main focus should be on reducing its CO2 and CH4 emissions.

To meet domestic and international demand for its agricultural products, cropland fires are used in the EU to increase the total amount of cropland that is available for production. Given that cropland fires not only lead to large CO2 emissions but also result in deforestation and biodiversity loss, the EU should build upon its recent September 2022 regulation that promotes deforestation-free products in order to decrease CO2 emissions and support biodiversity. The EU’s 2022 regulation on deforestation obliges companies to verify that products sold in the EU have not been produced on deforested or degraded land.

Enteric fermentation refers to the digestive process of animals that release CH4, and thus emissions from enteric fermentation will generally increase as the number of livestock increases. In order to decrease the amount of CH4 that it produces, the EU should continue to promote more plant-based eating through subsidies on plant-based products and advertisements that promote a more plant-based lifestyle. The EU should also incorporate more policies that reduce enteric fermentation into its Farm to Fork strategy, such as policies that optimize feed digestibility and availability and policies that promote improved animal health.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard EU Manager Brittany Demogenes


Image Courtesy of:


Climate Scorecard depends on support from people like you.

We are a team of researchers providing information on efforts to reduce global emissions. We help make you better informed and able to advocate for improved climate change efforts. Donations of any amount are welcome.