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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Commission calls for a stronger response to soil degradation

Brussels, 13 February 2012. Soil degradation is a worrying phenomenon in the EU. Between 1990 and 2006, at least 275 hectares of soil per day were permanently lost through soil sealing – the covering of fertile land by impermeable material – amounting to 1,000 km² per year, or an area the size of Cyprus every ten years. Soil erosion by water is estimated to affect 1.3 million km² in Europe, an area equivalent to 2.5 times the size of France. Soil degradation affects our capacity to produce food, prevent droughts and flooding, stop biodiversity loss, and tackle climate change. These are some of the main findings of two new reports on the policy and scientific aspects of European soil presented by the European Commission.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "These reports highlight the importance of preserving European soils if we are to safeguard supplies of quality food and clean groundwater, healthy recreational spaces, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. We need to use the resources from our soils more sustainably. The best way to do this would be through a common approach across the EU. The Commission has put legislative proposals on the table, and I hope our new reports will help Council and Parliament move towards action. "

The reports underline the need for action to prevent the ongoing deterioration of Europe's soils. Erosion, soil sealing and acidification have all increased in the past decade, and the trend is likely to continue unless challenges such as rising land-use, the inefficient use of natural resources and the preservation of organic matter in soil are addressed. According to the policy report, five years after the adoption of a Soil Thematic Strategy, there is still no systematic monitoring and protection of soil quality across Europe. This means that existing actions are not sufficient to ensure an adequate level of protection for all soil in Europe.

In preparation for action at EU level, the Commission has been working to support soil awareness initiatives, research and monitoring projects, such as LUCAS, a survey on land cover, land use and agro-environmental indicators run by Eurostat. The Commission has also continued to integrate the objective of soil protection into other EU policies, including agriculture and rural development. Around €3.1 billion has been allocated to the rehabilitation of industrial sites and contaminated land as part of the Cohesion Policy for the period 2007-2013. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Germany have allocated the most funding (€475, 371, and 332 million respectively).

In addition to ongoing actions aimed at addressing soil degradation, the Commission intends to support research and soil monitoring, finalise guidelines on soil sealing and integrate further soil considerations in the upcoming review of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. The Commission will also propose accounting for land use, land use change and forestry emissions (LULUCF) as part of the EU's climate change commitment for 2020, as well as work at the international level to promote soil-related initiatives.

The scientific report 'The state of soil in Europe' has been published by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, in collaboration with the European Environment Agency, and provides a comprehensive overview of our present understanding of soil resources and degradation processes. The report concludes that further research and improved data collection is needed to advance our knowledge and heighten public awareness of the importance of soil.

Next Steps

The European Parliament and the Council are now invited to submit their views on the policy report.

Background

In 2006 the European Commission adopted a Soil Framework Directive, which addresses soil protection, including its trans-boundary aspects. The Directive aims at ensuring soil productivity, especially for food production, limiting risks to human health and the environment, providing opportunities for climate mitigation and adaptation and stimulating business opportunities for soil remediation. The Directive, which is still being debated in the Council and the European Parliament, once adopted, will contribute to address some of the critical issues highlighted in the report.

Further information:

Policy report: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/soil/three_en.htm

Scientific report: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/jrc/index.cfm?id=2540

See also:

MEMO/06/341 on the Soil Thematic Strategy

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/soil/index_en.htm

http://eusoils.jrc.ec.europa.eu/

Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)


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