Inadequate policy activates grassroots actions: The story of RE-PEAT and the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy

The following article is an excerpt from Ecosprinter’s 2021 printed edition on a just transition. We decided to bring you the articles from this edition in a digital form as well.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a EU subsidy scheme for the farming sector which makes out about one third of the EU’s budget. Its subsidies represent not only an important source of incomes for farmers, but the allocation schemes significantly contribute to shaping the EU’s countryside. Thus, the revision of the rulebook for the CAP every seven years is hotly debated, as it determines how subsidies are allocated to which type of farming practices, for example conventional or organic agriculture.

What comes to your mind when I say “Common Agricultural Policy”? Perhaps the word common conjures an image of farmers, rural communities, city-dwellers, delivery drivers, vegans, meat-eaters and more, sitting down to a shared picnic. Or maybe it draws to mind the end of World War II and the beginning of a collaborative European region – later to become the European Union. Perhaps even more likely, it reminds you of the powerful youth-led campaign calling for a more sustainable and ambitious agricultural plan in the EU (flooding the Twitter-sphere with the hashtag “WithdrawThisCAP”). Somewhat less likely is an association of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with the systematic and incentivised drainage of peatlands. 

In fact, it was the EU’s CAP and its (mis)treatment of peatlands that galvanized a collective named RE-PEAT to take action on this very topic. The seed of RE-PEAT was sown when a few members of the current team went on a field trip to a German peatland. They came to realise the vast climate and ecological value of healthy peatlands and the absurdity that this highly influential policy actively eradicates them.They asked themselves:

How could it be that a policy like this exists, in the midst of climate breakdown? And what can we – as young people and as European citizens – do about this?

For those new to peatlands, they take up just 3% of the planet’s combined freshwater and land-surface area but are an ecosystem like no other. Formed of layers of partially decomposed plant matter, peatlands are the largest terrestrial carbon store on earth – containing double the carbon of all forests combined. Yet, when drained, the captured carbon stored in the peatland’s acidic water is re-oxidised and converted into carbon dioxide. 

Today, drained peatlands emit almost double the CO2 compared with the aviation industry!

But let’s not reduce the peatland story to their carbon content.

These vibrant ecosystems are the melting pots of water and earth. They house a range of niche plants atop of their sour bellies and are home to many creatures, migratory birds and other-worldly bacteria. Peatlands also contain history in their layers, making them the record-keepers of ancient life and death.

In 2020, RE-PEAT created the Peat Anthology, EU Edition to make information and appreciation of peatlands common knowledge, and to prove to the CAP policy-makers that people care about their decisions. The anthology contains a collection of stories and intimate connections to peatlands and is a powerful and evocative case for the preservation of and respect for peatland ecosystems. 

Unfortunately the MEP’s voted to pass a decidedly unambitious, non-robust and climatically unaware CAP, one that stands as an obstacle to realising the European Green Deal. This policy neither uses agriculture as a tool against the environmental challenges we face, nor to address socio-economic challenges faced by farmers and rural regions of the EU.

However, not all is lost. There is a two-year transition period, during which Member States, the European Council and the European Parliament can reassess and rethink the current version of the CAP. We will be continuing to follow the developments and put pressure on where we can to allow peatlands a voice during this period and beyond. 

What more is there to say, except let’s get stuck in!

Frankie Turk

Frankie is interested in the connections
between different fields of thought and perspectives, especially visual art, film and science. She
has been active in climate justice advocacy for
a number of years, and believes that peatlands
are one of the most under-rated ecosystems that
exist today. She sees that peatlands are spaces for
deep reflection, climate mitigation, adaptation and
political transformation!

Bethany Copsey

Bethany is a graduate of environmental policy and science, with a particular interest in political and soil ecology. She’s a member of REPEAT and is planning to study soil science further with her masters. She is interested in ecologies of all kinds and making links between them – be that political ecology or soil ecology.