Context - Soil is a vital resource for food security, but in Europe it is being degraded by pollution, overuse, and erosion.
How could soil be protected?
This is a faithful summary of the leading report produced in 2012 by the European Environmental Agency (EEA): " The state of soil in
- Source document:EEA (2012)
- Summary & Details: GreenFacts
Latest update: 10 March 2017
Soil degradation in Europe has increased
and will increase further if no action is taken. Soil degradation is driven or
exacerbated by human activity together with projected
climate change, individual extreme
weather events which are becoming more frequent, and likely to have also
negative effects on soils.
What are the key drivers of soil degradation in Europe?
SSoil is one of the planet’s invaluable resources, it performs key functions
which underpin our societies, not the least of which is food
production. In Europe, soil is being
degraded by a wide range of
factors, and this has considerable and
environmental and economic
consequences. Poor land management, such as
construction activities and forest fires
are among the main causes of this situation.
The 8 main major aspects identified in the report as drivers of soil
- Biodiversity decline, from
erosion, salinisation and sealing;
- Soil sealing induced by machinery
compaction, which reduces water storage and makes soil less
permeable to plant roots;
- Various types of contamination ;
- Erosion by wind or water;
- Landslides triggered by land abandonment and land-use
- Low levels of organic
- Salinisation from irrigation water and fertilizers
- Sealing when soils are used for urban sprawl,
industrial development or transport
Furthermore, other potential threats to soil integrity considered in this
report including desertification,
production, acidification and consequences
for soils related to climate change/ . Climate
change, in relation with more frequent and more severe droughts, may
worsen soil degradation and its role in
managing terrestrial fluxes of atmospheric
carbon dioxide (CO2).
What are the main consequences of soil degradation?
Soil degradation leads to a decline in
the ability of soil to carry out its ecosystem
services. This has marked local, regional, European and global
impacts and can contribute to food shortages, higher commodity prices,
ecosystem destruction. For example,
soil compaction can affect water infiltration capacity and so reduces water
storage and conduct and make soil less permeable to plant roots, and also
increase erosion risk by accelerating
run‐off phenomena. Poor soil quality can also affect human health in several
ways, leading to specific diseases or general illness generated by pathogenic
agents or chemical contaminants. However,
many of the relationships between soil quality and human health are unclear and
require further research.
What is the role of the EU in its soil protection?
At the difference of the numerous policies and legislations regarding water,
air, waste, chemicals, industrial pollution, nature
pesticides and agriculture, there is no
specific EU legislation specifically targeting the protection of soil.
In response to this situation, the EU Commission adopted in 2006 a
Soils Thematic Strategy which aimed at taking into account
the full range of threats and ensuring that EU soils stay healthy for future
generations.. It was noted that the.Common Agricultural Policy
has a key role to play a.o. by encouraging farming practices that maintain soil
However, Soil Thematic Strategy Commission noted that there was a marked lack
of awareness on the importance of soil and the need of soil
protection and some five years after
the adoption of this, the Commission in April 2014 took the decision to withdraw
the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive as a number of countries argued that
soil degradation does not have
transboundary consequences and thus soil legislation should remain a matter of
national competence only. Neverthelss, the Directorate General for Environment
of the European Commission organised an EU Soil
stakeholders' conference in Brussels in
December 2016 with the objective to present the inventory of soil-related
legislation at EU and national level and their gaps analysis1