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Thematic strategy for soil protection

The Commission proposes a framework and common objectives to prevent soil degradation, to preserve soil functions and to remediate degraded soil. Under this proposal, which forms part of the strategy, risk areas and polluted sites are identified and provision is made to remediate degraded soil.

PROPOSAL

Commission Communication of 22 September 2006 entitled "Thematic strategy for soil protection" [COM(2006) 231 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Directive of 22 September 2006 setting out a framework for soil protection and amending Council Directive 2004/35/EC.

SUMMARY

The EU thematic strategy for soil protection puts forward measures to protect soil and to preserve its capacity to perform its functions * in environmental, economic, social and cultural terms.

The strategy includes setting up a legislative framework for the protection and sustainable use of soil, integrating soil protection into national and EU policies, improving knowledge in this area and increasing public awareness.

The proposal for a Directive is a key component of the strategy, which enables Member States to adopt measures tailored to their local needs. It provides for measures to identify problems, prevent soil degradation and remediate polluted or degraded soil.

Risk prevention, mitigation and restoration

The measures included in the proposal for a Directive include obligatory identification by Member States of areas at risk of erosion, organic matter decline, compaction, salinisation and landslides, or where the degradation process is already underway. This will be done on the basis of criteria set out in the proposal.

Member States must then set objectives and adopt programmes of measures to reduce these risks and to address the effects they have. They must also take steps to limit soil sealing, notably by rehabilitating brownfield sites and, where sealing is necessary, to mitigate its effects.

Soil contamination

The proposal for a Directive also provides for Member States taking appropriate measures to prevent soil contamination by dangerous substances.

They must draw up a list of sites polluted by dangerous substances when concentration levels pose a significant risk to human health and the environment, and of sites where certain activities have been carried out (landfills, airports, ports, military sites, activities covered by the IPPC Directive, etc.). The proposal contains a list of these potentially polluting activities.

When these sites are sold and the transaction is made, the owner or potential buyer must submit a report to the competent national authorities and the other party on the state of the soil. This report is produced by an authorised body or a person authorised by the Member State.

Member States must then remediate * the polluted sites in line with a national strategy setting out the priorities. Where it is not possible for the person responsible to sustain the cost of remedying the site, the Member State concerned must make provisions for the appropriate financing.

Awareness raising and exchange of information

The proposal for a Directive also provides for Member States to raise public awareness on the importance of soil protection and for them to ensure that the public can participate in preparing, amending and reassessing programmes of measures on risk areas and National Remediation Strategies.

Member States must send the Commission a set of specific data including the list of risk areas, programmes of measures and their National Remediation Strategies.

The Commission also plans to set up a platform for the exchange of information between Member States and stakeholders on risk area identification and on risk assessment methodologies.

Integration

Member States and EU institutions must integrate soil concerns into sectoral policies that have a significant impact on soil, especially agriculture, regional development, transport and research.

In particular the Commission plans to review current legislation, such as the Directive on Sewage Sludge and the Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). It will assess whether there are any synergies between the current strategy and the Water Framework Directive and with the Thematic Strategy for the Marine Environment.

Research

The Commission underlines the importance of pursuing research to close the gaps in knowledge about soil and to strengthen the basis of policies, in particular for soil biodiversity.

The seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (2007-2013) contains a chapter on support for research into soil functions and soil protection.

The need for soil protection

Soil is generally defined as the top layer of the earth's crust. It is a very dynamic system which performs many functions * and is vital to human activities and to the survival of ecosystems. As soil formation and regeneration is an extremely slow process, soil is considered a non-renewable resource.

The main degradation processes to which EU soil is subject are erosion, decline in organic matter, contamination, salinisation, compaction, decline in biodiversity, sealing, floods and landslides.

Soil degradation is a serious problem in Europe. It is driven or exacerbated by human activity such as inadequate agricultural and forestry practices, industrial activities, tourism, urban and industrial sprawl and construction works.

The impact of this includes loss of soil fertility, carbon and biodiversity, lower water-retention capacity, disruption of gas and nutrient cycles and reduced degradation of contaminants. Soil degradation has a direct impact on water and air quality, biodiversity and climate change. It can also impair the health of European citizens and threaten food and feed safety.

The impact analysis carried out in line with Commission guidelines using available data shows that soil degradation could cost up to EUR 38 billion per year.

Background

Soil has not, to date, been subject to a specific protection policy at EU level. Provisions for soil protection are spread across many areas, either under environmental protection or other policy areas such as agriculture and rural development. However these provisions do not ensure a sufficient level of soil protection as their objectives and scope differ widely.

Coordinated action at European level is needed given that the state of soil influences other environmental and food safety aspects governed at EU level, and given the risks of distortions of the internal market linked to remedying polluted sites, the potential for cross-border impacts and the international dimension of the problem.

This strategy is one of the seven thematic strategies under the Sixth Environmental Action Programme adopted in 2002. It is based on a comprehensive study and widespread consultation of the general public and stakeholders.

Key terms used in the act
  • Soil functions: the main functions are to provide a physical and cultural environment for humans and human activity, to produce biomass (for food etc.) and raw material, storage, to filter and transform nutrients, substances and water, hosting biodiversity (habitats, species, etc.), to act as a carbon pool and to store the geological and archaeological heritage.
  • Remediation: actions on the soil to remove, control, contain or reduce pollutants so that the contaminated site no longer poses any significant risk to human health or the environment, taking account of its current use and approved future use.

REFERENCES AND PROCEDURE

ProposalOfficial JournalProcedure

COM(2006) 232

-

COD/2006/0086

Last updated: 06.09.2011
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