The European Commission has adopted a package of measures for the sustainable use of key natural resources. It aims to increase the resilience of the EU’s food system and agriculture. This package complements previous proposals under the “natural resources” pillar of the Green Deal. One of the documents adopted is a proposal on soil monitoring and resilience. It aims to support the move toward good soil health in the EU by 2050. by collecting data on the condition of the soil and making it available to farmers and other interested parties. The adopted act introduces sustainable soil management as the norm and proposes to take action on unacceptable risks caused by soil contamination. They are dangerous to humans and the environment.
Current status in Europe
It is estimated that more than 60% of Europe’s soils are in poor condition. The unsustainable use of natural resources in the EU, particularly degradation and pollution, is one of the main causes of the climate crisis and a threat to biodiversity. Every year, one billion tons of soil are washed away by erosion. Degradation costs are estimated at more than 50 billion euros a year. Destruction is mainly due to unsustainable land management, pollution and overexploitation combined with the effects of climate change and extreme weather events. There are an estimated 2.8 million potentially contaminated sites in the EU.
Monitoring soil health and resilience
The proposal adopted by the European Commission is the first-ever EU soil legislation. It provides a harmonized definition of soil health, introduces a comprehensive and consistent monitoring framework, and promotes sustainable management and remediation of contaminated sites. The application collected soil data from several sources. This includes information from samples taken as part of the EU’s Land Use and Land Cover Survey (LUCAS), national and private data, and satellite data from Copernicus. The ultimate goal, in line with the EU’s goal of zero emissions, is healthy soils by 2050.
Soil data will be an enabler of innovation, as well as technological and organizational solutions, especially in agricultural practices. They will help farmers and other landowners implement the most appropriate farming methods and increase yields and fertility, while reducing water and nutrient use. In addition, the data will provide a better understanding of trends in drought, water retention and erosion, improving disaster prevention and management if they do occur. With healthy soils and the availability of detailed data, farmers and land managers will be able to earn additional income in the form of remuneration for carbon-intensive agro-ecosystems, payments for ecosystem services or for increasing the value of healthy soils and the food produced on them.
Directive on state monitoring and its resilience – impact on agriculture
Ensuring the sustainable use of soils and their regeneration will contribute to strengthening the resilience of European agriculture and food. Farmers will benefit because their livelihoods and future depend on the condition of the soils on which crops grow and livestock graze. As much as 95% of our food is produced directly or indirectly on soils. Soil erosion could cause €1.25 billion a year in lost agricultural productivity in the EU.
Increased uptake of sustainable management practices will contribute to maintaining or improving soil fertility, productivity and yields, and can reduce costs through greater availability of ecosystem services and less money.
The proposal includes elements to increase knowledge and availability of data on the health of soils, mainly agricultural, and to maintain or improve the value of soils for food, feed and biomass production. The proposal does not impose any direct obligations on landowners, land managers or farmers.
Impact on climate change
Soil stores more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere and all biomass combined. Wider use of their sustainable management in the EU will increaseCO2 sequestration and water retention. This will help mitigate and adapt to climate change and in achieving the goal of a climate-neutral and resilient Europe by 2050. Healthy soils retain up to 25% of their water mass, helping to reduce the risk of natural disasters and acting as long-term reservoirs to replenish groundwater bodies. Healthy soils with high water infiltration rates also promote the creation of fire-resistant vegetation cover to prevent forest fires.
Monitoring the condition of soils (e.g., organic carbon content and water retention capacity) will improve the implementation of climate change mitigation policies and measures, as well as our knowledge of how to adapt and prevent natural disasters.
Certification of soil health is likely to increase the value of carbon dioxide removal and provide recognition of sustainable soil management and related food products.
The role of Member States in implementing the Directive on soil monitoring and resilience
Member states will have to put in place all monitoring arrangements and carry out soil condition measurements. This control will be carried out in soil sectors, which will also be established by member states. The Commission will support Member States’ efforts in soil monitoring: for example, through soil condition assessments, as has been done for several years (LUCAS), as well as through research and development of soil remote sensing products and the creation of a digital portal for data acquired by the existing EU Soil Observatory. Gleb.
Regarding sustainable soil management, the Commission will provide Member States with all the necessary guidance to identify and establish sustainable management practices. However, the proposal leaves flexibility for national and local authorities to choose the best measures depending on the type and condition of the soils, in consultation with land managers and other stakeholders. The EU will also help develop these practices by supporting research, especially through Horizon Europe, the Pact for Healthy Soils in Europe.