Towards a sustainable future: The importance of monitoring and improving soil health in the EU

Towards a sustainable future: The importance of monitoring and improving soil health in the EU

Soil health is a growing concern throughout the European Union. With around 60-70% of European soils in an unhealthy state and an estimated annual cost of at least €50 billion, the need for effective action and strong regulation is more urgent than ever. In an effort to reverse this alarming trend, the European Parliament has taken an important step by adopting the first legislation dedicated exclusively to soil monitoring.

The need for legislation on soil monitoring

Last Wednesday (10th April 2024), the Parliament voted in favour of the Commission’s proposal for a Soil Monitoring Law with 336 votes in favour, 242 against and 33 abstentions. This ground-breaking legislation will oblige EU countries to monitor and then assess the health of all soils on their territory, using soil descriptors that best illustrate the characteristics of each soil type at national level.

Strategies for assessing soil health

MEPs have proposed a five-level classification for assessing soil health: high, good, moderate ecological status, degraded and critically degraded. Only soils that reach good or high status are considered healthy. This classification is essential to provide a clear and coherent framework to promote sustainable soil management and remediation of contaminated sites.

The polluter pays principle

A key element of this legislation is the “polluter pays” principle, which requires polluters to bear the costs of cleaning up contaminated sites. This measure should encourage greater responsibility and help to reduce future pollution.

A common European framework

According to Martin Hojsík, the report’s rapporteur, we are close to having a common European framework to protect our soils from degradation. Hojsík stresses that without healthy soils there is no life on the planet, and underlines the dependence of our agriculture and food on this non-renewable resource.

Next steps

Following the adoption of its position at first reading, the document will be considered by the new Parliament after the European elections on 6-9 June. This is a crucial step towards realising the EU’s ‘zero pollution’ ambition and reflects citizens’ expectations to protect and restore biodiversity and eliminate pollution, as expressed in the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

This new approach to soil health is evidence of growing awareness and action in the face of the climate and biodiversity crises, and marks a hopeful path towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

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