EU proposal on soil health falls far short of needed action to reverse degradation

Home » News » Peatlands » Climate mitigation and adaptation » EU proposal on soil health falls far short of needed action to reverse degradation

Today the European Commission introduced its proposal for a Soil Monitoring Directive. While the proposal provides important recognition of the need for rapid action to halt and reverse soil degradation, the very small steps proposed fall far short of the level of action needed.

Healthy soils are critical to human well-being, food security, biodiversity. But 60 – 70% of soil ecosystems in the EU are unhealthy and suffering from continued degradation. This extends to Europe’s wetland soils. The EU is the second largest global emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) from drained peatlands (230 Mt CO2 eq/year. This equates to 15% of total global peatland emissions), while fens, bogs and mires are among the most threatened ecosystems in Europe.

While the Commission proposal recognises the many problems caused by soil degradation and states that rapid action is necessary, it is missing a plan of action. The proposal emphasises better monitoring but does not require Member States to establish any programmes of measures for sustainable soil management or regeneration, nor is there new financing. This will only result in further degradation and lost time.

“Achieving healthy soils in the EU by 2050 will help to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises we are facing,” according to Wetland International Europe’s Peatlands Policy Officer, Elise Vitali. “We welcome that the Commission is proposing legislation on soil but the current proposal is not up to the challenges Europe is facing. Members of the European Parliament and Member States should take this opportunity to build more resilient societies in the face of a rapidly changing climate by proposing a pathway to achieve healthy soils by 2050.”

“The EU should be acting with a sense of urgency to combat our increasing droughts, floods and fires by proposing measures to stop soil degradation and restore soil health. Unfortunately, the small steps proposed here – which focus on monitoring – will only allow us to better observe the continued degradation of soils,” according to Wetland International Europe’s Freshwater Manager, Paul Brotherton. “We call on Members of the European Parliament and EU Member States to take bolder action to stop and reverse soil degradation by adopting a genuine Soil Health Law that tackles the causes of the decline.”

The current climate emergency cannot be addressed effectively without halting and reversing soil degradation. Healthy peatlands can store twice as much carbon than forests and the EU cannot meet its commitments to become carbon neutral without ambitious rewetting of degraded peatland soils.

Soils are also critical for climate adaptation. Extreme weather driven by a rapidly changing climate is causing larger and more frequent disasters across Europe. Land degradation is making these disasters worse. Drained or sealed soils, for example, are unable to retain water, allowing excess water from heavy rainfall to run off at speed, contributing to floods. Healthy soils can serve as natural sponges that retain water and create resilience against the devastating droughts, fires and floods the continent has experienced over recent years and which are only set to worsen without appropriate action.