The EU Initiative on Soil Protection, what to expect in the upcoming years
On 17 November, the European Commission published the EU Soil Protection Strategy for 2030 to make soils healthy for people, nature and climate. This initiative was developed in the frame of the European Green Deal and will align with the zero pollution action plan and with the chemicals strategy for sustainability.
The proposed EU Soil Protection Strategy 2030 follows a resolution voted by MEPs in April 2021, which highlighted the lack of a coherent and integrated EU legal framework for protecting Europe’s soil. Indeed, soil protection is currently addressed via different, often non-binding, EU instruments lacking coordination and coherence. The European Parliament therefore has called on the European Commission to take action to better protect EU’s soil.
In this context, the Soil Protection Strategy 2030 aims at establishing an overarching policy framework for soil restoration, able to assess the status of European soil and take action against its degradation. This Strategy underlines the importance of healthy soil, intended as in good chemical, biological and physical condition, and thus able to continuously support several ecosystem services, such as food and biomass production, life and biodiversity, as well as act as a carbon reservoir and as a source of raw materials.
To that end, the EU Soil Protection Strategy 2030 includes, among others, the following medium-term objectives by 2030:
The restoration of significant areas of degraded and carbon-rich ecosystems, including soils;
Reaching a good ecological and chemical status in surface waters, and good chemical and quantitative status in groundwater by 2027;
Reducing nutrient losses by at least 50%, the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% and the use of hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030.
The strategy also foresees the long-term objective of reaching climate neutrality by 2050 with the intermediary objective of achieving land-based climate neutrality in the EU by 2035.
To fulfil these objectives, the European Commission plans to propose the following actions:
1. A new legislative initiative on soil health. This new Soil Health Law will consider options to monitor and report on the progress towards the ‘no net land take’ targets and provide guidance to public authorities and private companies on how to reduce soil sealing. At national level, Member-states will be requested to set, by 2023, their own national, regional and local net land take reduction targets for 2030 and apply the ‘land take hierarchy' of avoid – reuse – minimise – compensate, instead of sealing off new natural or agricultural land.
2. Put forward, by mid-December 2021, legally binding objectives to identify, register and remediate contaminated sites while developing an EU priority list for soil contaminants.
3. Assess the need and potential for legally binding provisions for a “passport for excavated soil”, and provide guidance, based on Member States’ experiences.
4. Revise the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, evaluate the Sewage Sludge Directive and revise the Industrial Emissions Directive by 2022. The restriction of substances such as microplastics and PFAS is also expected within the same timeframe.
5. Assess the Environmental Liability Directive by 2023 and evaluate the feasibility of introducing a soil health certificate for land transactions.
6. Review the application of the Fertilising Products Regulation by July 2026.
7. Launch a carbon farming initiative and join the global “4 per 1000” initiative to increase the soil organic carbon content in agricultural land.
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