Commission consults citizens and stakeholders on possible EU soil health legislation

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The European Commission has launched a online public consultation on the development of a possible European soil health law.

Soils are the foundation of our food security, providing 95% of the food we eat. Healthy soils are vital for life on Earth. They provide many essential services and are crucial to achieving the key objectives of the European Green Deal such as climate neutrality, restoration of biodiversity, absence of pollution, healthy and sustainable food systems and a resilient environment.

The EU soil strategy for 2030, adopted on November 17, 2021, sets the vision of having all soils in good condition by 2050 and making soil protection, sustainable use and restoration the norm. He also announces that the Commission will submit a new legislative proposal on soil health provide a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of soils by granting them the same level of protection as exists for water, the marine environment and the air in the EU. This proposal will complement the Nature Restoration Act and ensure synergies with climate change mitigation and adaptation actions.

Sustainable soil management and restoration requires the involvement of a wide range of economic and societal actors. Thus, from farmers to foresters, land planners to industry, national governments to local authorities, NGOs to citizens, all stakeholders are invited to share their views on this soil health initiative via a online consultation which takes place until October 24, 2022.

Commissioner of the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius said:

How we use the land matters. This can either undermine or promote progress in addressing biodiversity loss and climate change. There is also growing evidence that healthy soils are crucial for food safety and security in the EU and beyond. Action for soil protection is an important element of the European Green Deal and at the heart of our European and international agendas.

Soils are home to more than 25% of the world’s biodiversity, are the largest terrestrial carbon reservoir on the planet and play a key role in the circular economy and adaptation to climate change. Yet some 60-70% of soil ecosystems in the EU are in poor health and suffering from degradation. Land degradation is estimated to cost the EU around €50 billion per year. Halting and reversing current trends in land degradation could generate up to €1.2 trillion per year in global economic benefits.

Background

Soils are a finite and non-renewable natural resource, and play a central role role of habitat and gene pool. Soil stores, filters and transforms many substances, including water, nutrients and carbon. Soils are therefore crucial for climate change mitigation and adaptation, agricultural production, food safety and security, nature conservation and biodiversity. Soils are the foundation of our health and wealth.

Soil functions are worth protecting because of their socio-economic and environmental importance, but they are also a dwindling resource. According to the European Environment Agency, more than 500 km2 of agricultural or natural land disappear every year in the EU, and are converted into artificial areas. Severely eroded cropland in the EU contributes to an estimated loss of agricultural productivity of €1.25 billion per year, while a similar impact worldwide would cost $8 billion per year.

Every day, more and more land in the EU is affected by degradation, resulting in the loss of ecosystem services. Moreover, land degradation, its drivers and its impacts know no borders. Thus, the differences between national soil protection rules result in very different obligations for economic operators across the EU, leading to distortion of the internal market, unfair competition, lack of legal certainty, unequal competitive conditions and levels of protection for soils and land.

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