European Commission launches public consultation on the future of soils

The political profile of soil conservation within the European Union needs to be raised so that it achieves as much attention as that devoted so air and water, says the European Commission’s Environment Directorate.

According to the Directorate, in its new consultation paper on soil conservation, Draft Outline on a Soil Paper, soil is a non-renewable resource, which needs to be put at the core of emerging strategies for sustainable development, both within Europe and internationally. As yet, the European Community has not developed a comprehensive approach to soils, but instead has produced a series of separate instruments, such as standards for sewage sludge. There are three main areas of action envisaged by the draft paper: underpinning member states’ efforts on soil; setting up and integrating common standards; and increasing levels of soil protection within European Union policies. However, a directive on soils is not suggested.

As well as being a reserve of biological habitats and water, and a source of raw materials, soil has a considerable buffering and filtering capacity, so that irreversible thresholds can be surpassed unnoticed. The main issues currently facing soil conservation within Europe are:

  • erosion and desertification (see related story);
  • point pollution, such as from landfills, industry, mining and nuclear facilities;
  • diffuse pollution, such as from agriculture, sewage sludge, and acidic deposition from the air;
  • soil losses through urbanisation, including the development of transport infrastructure and land fragmentation;
  • the role of soil in climate change, including carbon sequestration;
  • organic matter in soil, structure and biodiversity, which have implications for fertility, water storage and climate change;
  • natural disasters, such as those linked to slope stability and flooding; and
  • salinisation.

There is also only limited data on soils in Europe, so that it is not possible to draw an accurate picture of the current situation or any trends in soil condition. According to the draft document, a monitoring system, providing European Union-wide comparable data would be needed as a tool to aid decision-making, to assess environmental legislation, and would complement data collection systems in individual member states.

Reactions to the consultation should be made by 17 June, and should be sent to the Commission on the forms provided with the document.

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