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Soil protection, 2030 strategy. ABC

On 17.11.21 the European Commission presented the new strategy for soil protection to 2030, in partial implementation of the EU Green Deal and EU 2030 strategy on biodiversity.

The document - entitled 'Reaping the benefits of healthy soils for people, food, nature and climate'(1) - will be followed by a proposal for new EU rules, by 2023. But only a shared political determination towards agroecology will be able to bring Europe closer to, rather than further away, the objectives set for 2030. The ABC to follow .


The integrity and health of the soils are crucial for life on Earth, since they depend on:

- 95% of food production and at least 25% of biodiversity, worldwide,

- key ecosystem services including carbon uptake, water purification, pest control,

- the prevention of floods and landslides, droughts e desertification. (1)

Concrete jungle

Europe it hosts a huge variety of soils, 24 of the 32 main groups surveyed on earth, each with its own identity and specific characteristics. This wealth is an asset that must be protected and preserved for future generations.

60-70% of the soils in the EU, however, it is in a poor state of health, up to degradation and desertification. And a billion tons of soil is lost every year due to erosion largely due to the abuse of herbicides, pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers.

Overbuilding - in devouring, every year, 40.000 hectares (400 km2) of land in the EU - it also neglects the need to reuse areas where the soil has already been occluded. Only 13,5% of urban development interventions in fact concern the rehabilitation and regeneration of abandoned areas.

Soil fragility and protection needs

The fragility of the soil - whose degradation, in the various areas of the planet, is estimated to vary between 50 and 70% - is linked to the biblical times for its formation. In fact, it takes 1.000 years to form one centimeter of surface soil, which therefore qualifies as a non-renewable and finite resource.

The most serious threats soils in the EU have been identified in climate change, sealing, compaction erosion, loss of biodiversity and organic matter, salinization and acidification. However, the degradation and hydrogeological instability that derive from it have not been addressed, if not partially, in European and Member State legislation.


The European Commission, in the context of Green Deal, adopted in 2021 two proposals for regulations and a strategy that have a bearing on soil protection - albeit indirectly -:

- proposal 17.11.21 for a regulation on making available on the EU market and exporting certain goods and products related to deforestation and forest degradation. COM (2021) 706 final,

- proposal 14.7.21 to amend the reg. (EU) 2018/841, cd LULUCF (Land use, land-use change, and forestry). To define the objectives of the Member States, by 2030, with the collective commitment to collectively achieve climate neutrality in land use, agriculture and forestry by 2035 (i.e. forest conservation. See note 2) ,

- EU strategy for adaptation to climate change. Shaping a climate resilient Europe. (3)

EU Soil Strategy for 2030

La EU Soil Strategy for 2030 - in line with the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 28.4.21, with 605 votes in favor, 55 against and 41 abstentions (4,5) - finally lays the foundations for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of land through appropriate legislative measures at EU level. In analogy with those already established for the protection of waters (drinking e agricultural, still looking forward to rules on microplastics), marine ecosystem and atmosphere.

The terrestrial soils they constitute the largest carbon deposit, estimated at around 2 500 gigatons, TNT (equivalent to 2.500 trillion tons). Compared to 800 TNT in the atmosphere and 560 TNT for animal and plant life. Healthy soils are therefore also crucial to mitigate the climate emergency, as they absorb about 25% of the CO2 equivalent (carbon footprint) issued every year through the use of fossil fuels and other anthropogenic activities.

EU strategy, 2030 objectives

The EU strategy presented by the European Commission on 17.11.21 indicates the medium-term objectives to be achieved by 2030:

- fight desertification, restore degraded lands, including those affected by desertification, drought and floods. Taking action to stop land degradation worldwide, # SDG15.3,

- restore large surfaces of degraded and carbon-rich ecosystems, including soils,

- achieve the objective of climate neutrality in use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), with a net absorption of greenhouse gases in the EU of 310 million t / year of CO2 equivalent,

- achieve good ecological and chemical conditions in surface waters and good chemical and quantitative conditions in groundwater by 2027. A pious illusion, at least in Italy, having regard to ISPRA annual reports,

- reduce the loss of nutrients by at least 50%, the use and risks deriving from synthetic pesticides and herbicides (-50%) and the use of the most dangerous pesticides (-50%) by 2030. Another goal impossible without an ecological transition in agriculture that failed in the (non-) reform of the CAP 2022-2027, as seen,

- make significant progress in the remediation of contaminated soils.

EU strategy, long-term goals

The long-term goals, whose target is set in Brussels by 2050, in turn plan to:

- achieve zero net land use, (6)

- reduce soil pollution 'at levels no longer considered harmful to human health and natural ecosystems and remain within limits that our planet can support, so as to create an environment free of toxic substances', (7)

- achieve climate neutrality in Europe,

- 'achieve by 2050 a climate resilient society in the EU, fully adapted to its inevitable effects'.

Economy and resilience of food systems

The economy and resilience of food systems are closely linked to the health of the soils which occurs when they have good chemical, biological and physical conditions, so as tocontinuously provide as many of the following ecosystem services as possible:

- produce food and biomass, including in agriculture and forestry,

- absorb, store and filter water and transform nutrients and substances, so as to protect groundwater bodies,

- lay the foundations for life and biodiversity, including habitats, species and genes,

- act as a carbon reservoir,

- provide a physical platform and cultural services for people and their activities,

- serve as a source of raw materials,

- to establish an archive of the geological, geomorphological and archaeological heritage. '


Context analysis proposed by the Commission, of undoubted scientific value, shows the need to protect the soil with an integrated approach. Essential above all in the monitoring and risk analysis activities on the basis of which to define specific objectives and measures. The strategy therefore considers the EU rules and initiatives that in various respects also concern soils (see image).

soil protection strategy

Challenges and solutions

The challenges to be addressed and the solutions to be considered, set out in the various chapters of the document, concern among other things:

- net absorption values ​​in land management (LUCLUF sector). Negative trend (-20% between 2013-2018) to be reversed through limits to wetland drainage and organic soils, as well as incentives for sustainable agriculture which include carbon farming initiative(8)

- recovery and reuse (traceability and circular economy) of excavated earth,

- spatial planning hierarchy, reporting and mitigation of net land use,

- recycling of organic materials (e.g. compost, digestate, purification sludge, processed manure and other agricultural residues),

- monitoring of soil biodiversity, in synergy with the FSDN networks (Farm Sustainability Data Network) and LUCAS (Land Use and Coverage Area frame Survey),

- control of desertification, also through specific initiatives such as The Great Green Wall e Regreening Africa,

- reform of the directive on the sustainable use of pesticides (directive 2009/128 / EC). Still waiting for an updated National Plan, in Italy, by the way.

Agroecology and soil protection

The concept of 'sustainable agriculture', as seen, it is rather equivocal. Whereas agroecology - which actually coincides with organic production, albeit regardless of the relative certifications - finds international consensus in the 10 principles defined by FAO (2019) in the Guidelines for sustainable land management, (9) referred to in fact in EU Soil Protection Strategy.

The set of principles agro-ecological are in fact the basis of the EU strategies on biodiversity e Farm to Fork. (10) With 'objectives to restore at least 10% of agricultural areas to landscape characteristics of high diversity, reduce the loss of nutrients, the risk and use of chemical pesticides, increase the percentage of agricultural land destined for organic farming and increase the level of matter organic in soils.'

Organic farming and soil protection

'It is proved that Soil carbon levels can improve if agricultural production systems use organic practices. (11) Likewise, agroforestry brings many benefits to soil health and adaptation to climate change.

Other sustainable practices include cover crops, crop rotation, incorporation of crop residues, cultivation on slope contours, non-use of heavy machinery, use of compost, prevention of conversion to arable land, conversion grazing, continuous soil cover, reduced use of plowing and chemicals.'

Regenerative agriculture and free soil health tests

THEregenerative agriculture and practices for 'sustainable soil management' - in line with agro-ecological principles and the wide variety of ecosystems and soil types available in the EU - will be described in a document that the Commission will prepare, after consultation with Member States and the stakeholder. Also identifying unsustainable soil management practices.

The initiative 'Test the soil for free'will be promoted by Brussels in all Member States, taking a cue from the French BDAT system (Base de Données d'Analyses des Terres). 'Knowing better the characteristics of the soil (pH, mass density, soil organic matter, nutrient balance, etc.) will help those who use it to adopt the best management practices. '

Economic value of soils

The sampling system and soil analysis developed over the years thanks to the LUCAS survey will be used by the Commission to assist Member States in setting up a system - funded with national funds, it is assumed in the context of rural development funds - that tests the soils of users who request it, communicating the test results to them. 'This will complement existing Member States' soil sampling obligations. '

The Brussels executive includes among other things '' assess the feasibility of introducing a soil health certificate for land sales, so that buyers are informed about the main characteristics and health of the soil on the site they intend to purchase'. A further prospect of valorisation of agroecology, which is easy to foresee, will be opposed by the agricultural confederations - in Liaison with the giants of agrochemistry - yes committed to boycotting the ecological transition.

# SDG15, Life on Earth. # SDG12, Sustainable Consumption and Production.

Dario Dongo


(1) EU Soil Strategy for 2030 Reaping the benefits of healthy soils for people, food, nature and climate. COM / 2021/699 final, https://bit.ly/3IyG7KM

(2) European Commission. Proposal for a Regulation amending Regulations (EU) 2018/841 as regards the scope, simplifying the compliance rules, setting out the targets of the Member States for 2030 and committing to the collective achievement of climate neutrality by 2035 in the land use, forestry and agriculture sector, and (EU) 2018/1999 as regards improvement in monitoring, reporting, tracking of progress and review. COM / 2021/554 final. https://bit.ly/3dAHCtC

(3) Forging a climate-resilient Europe - the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. COM / 2021/82 final. https://bit.ly/3Iricx7

(4) European Parliament. Resolution on soil protection. 2021/2548 (RSP), https://oeil.secure.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/printsummary.pdf?id=1660535&l=en&t=D

(5) Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei. Soil protection, the European Parliament calls for binding rules. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 25.4.20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/protezione-del-suolo-il-parlamento-europeo-chiede-regole-vincolanti

(6) See in this regard the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, COM (2011) 571, and the EU's Seventh Environment Action Program (Decision No 1386/2013 / EU)

(7) A path to a healthier planet for all - EU Action Plan Towards zero pollution for air, water and soil, COM (2021) 400

(8) European Commission (2021). Setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming mechanisms in the EU. https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/10acfd66-a740-11eb-9585-01aa75ed71a1/language-en

(9) Dario Dongo, Camilla Fincardi. Agroecology, SDGs, salvation. The FAO Decalogue. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.4.20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/agroecologia-sdgs-salvezza-il-decalogo-della-fao

(10) Dario Dongo. Farm to Fork, resolution in Strasbourg. Focus on pesticides and fertilizers. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.10.21, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/farm-to-fork-risoluzione-a-strasburgo-focus-su-pesticidi-e-fertilizzanti

(11) Gattinger Andreas, Müller Adrian, Haeni Matthias, Skinner Colin, Fliessbach Andreas, Buchmann Nina, Mäder Paul, Stolze Matthias, Smith Pete, Scialabba Nadia, Niggli Urs. (2012). Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 109. doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1209429109

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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