Soil is a vital, non-renewable resource for ecosystems, playing an essential role in services such as water purification and food production. It is also a major global carbon sink, with significant potential to remove climate-changing gases from the atmosphere.
However, the ability of soil to deliver ecosystem services — in terms of food production, as a biodiversity pool and as a regulator of gasses, water and nutrients — is under severe pressure.
This international initiative S.O.S. SOIL – Save Organics in Soil, led by the European Compost Network (ECN) and the Italian Composting and Biogas Association (CIC), aims to highlight the importance of soil organic matter to encourage policy makers to develop instruments to move Europe towards implementing sustainable, climate proof soil management practices.
The main Priority Goals of the S.O.S. SOIL Initiative is to:
The signing of the “Save Organics in Soil” manifesto is open to organizations, companies, NGOs, researchers and citizens.
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THE ROLE OF THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS – SDGS
At the global level, the notion of preserving soil functionality has been embedded in the land-degradation-neutrality concept as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS, agreed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The SDGS also include targets on soil quality, soil contamination, the management of chemicals and waste. Implementation of the SDGS can provide an important vehicle for soil protection measures in Europe.
EUROPEAN UNION SOIL ORGANIC MATTER DEGRADATION
A Technical Report issued in November 2015 by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research pointed out that CO, emissions by EU soil organic matter losses amount to 173 M ton CO,/year: it means that the EU is, after Indonesia and before the Russian Federation, the World’s second largest emission hotspot due to organic soil degradation, mainly induced by human activities.
EUROPE’S TRANSITION TOWARDS A CIRCULAR AND GREEN ECONOMY
Land-use data at European level, although underestimated, display an annual trend of approximately 100.000 hectares of land lost per year because of sprawling growth of settlements and infrastructures over green fields. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA) land recycling, such as reusing neglected sites and turning roads or parking lots to green spaces or residential areas, can have positive impacts on the environment and support Europe’s transition towards a circular and green economy.
EU RESEARCH AND INNOVATION PROGRAMMES
The Seventh Environment Action Programme, which entered into force in January 2014, recognises that soil degradation is a serious challenge. It provides that by 2020 land is managed sustainably in the Union, soil is adequately protected and commits the EU and its Member States to increasing efforts to reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter and to remediate contaminated sites. The subsequent Horizon 2020 programme stresses the importance of increasing organic matter in soils as a way of improving soil fertility, increasing agricultural production, and mitigating climate change. However, only a few EU Member States have specific legislation on soil protection. Currently soil is not subject to a comprehensive and coherent set of rules in the Union. Existing EU policies in areas such as agriculture, water, waste, chemicals, and prevention of industrial pollution do indirectly contribute to the protection of soils. But since these policies have other aims and scopes, they are not sufficient tools to ensure an adequate level of protection for soils in Europe.
THE LACK OF AN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION STRATEGY
The conclusions of the recently issued ‘Inventory and Assessment of Soil Protection Policy Instruments in EU Member States’ (Feb 2017), commissioned by the EC, highlight that the lack of a coherent, strategic EU policy framework is not consistent with the objectives of an economic and political Union that should provide for uniformity of rules, and ensure equal opportunities for citizens and businesses, with a common level of environmental and health protection.
THERE IS NO COMPREHENSIVE EU POLICY TOOL
According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN, we are striving for a land degradation neutral world by the year 2030. The European Commission wants to achieve no more net land take in Europe by 2050 at the latest. Yet no comprehensive EU policy tool to achieve that goal in a well coherent and coordinated way is in place.