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EU's Soil Monitoring Law: Paving the Way to Healthy Soils by 2050

EU's Soil Monitoring Law: Paving the Way to Healthy Soils by 2050

The European Union is taking a significant leap towards soil health with its recent soil monitoring law. This legislation, endorsed by the Council, mandates obligatory soil health monitoring and provides guiding principles for sustainable soil management. It also addresses soil contamination that poses unacceptable health and environmental risks.


 

Key Highlights of the EU's Soil Monitoring Law


  • Mandatory Soil Health Monitoring

  • Member states must monitor and assess soil health.

  • Implementation of an EU common methodology for sampling points.


  • Flexibility in Soil Measurements

  • Use of existing data and monitoring systems permitted.

  • Establishment of minimum quality requirements for laboratories.


  • Assessment of Soil Health

  • Maintenance of soil descriptors: physical, chemical, and biological parameters.

  • Introduction of a double-value system:

  • Non-binding sustainable target values at the EU level.

  • Operational trigger values set by member states.


  • Sustainable Soil Management Practices

  • Member states to define sustainable soil management practices within five years.

  • Practices to align with guiding principles set in the directive.


  • Land Take Mitigation

  • Objective to achieve no net land take by 2050.

  • Focus on mitigating soil sealing and destruction.

  • Inclusion of mitigation principles in national land use planning.


  • Addressing Contaminated Sites

  • Identification and public mapping of potentially contaminated sites.

  • Risk-based, stepwise approach to prioritize measures.

  • Creation of national lists of potentially contaminating activities.

  • Investigation and mitigation of unacceptable risks to human health and the environment.


  • Next Steps

  • Council's agreement allows the rotating presidency to start negotiations with the European Parliament.

  • Negotiations to begin under the new legislative cycle.


  • Background and Goals

  • Response to the EU soil strategy highlighting the need for dedicated soil legislation.

  • Directive proposed on July 5, 2023.

  • Aim to ensure all soils are in healthy condition by 2050.

  • Alignment with the EU Zero Pollution ambition and the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development.


 

The Importance of Healthy Soils


Healthy soils are the bedrock of our ecosystems. They support 95% of the food we consume, host over 25% of global biodiversity, and represent the largest terrestrial carbon pool. Despite their critical role, over 60% of soils in the EU are currently in poor condition, making the soil monitoring law an urgent necessity.



Comprehensive Monitoring Framework


Under the soil monitoring law, member states, backed by the European Commission, will monitor and assess soil health across their territories. This initiative will enable sustainable soil management practices and other measures by authorities and landowners throughout the EU.


The law mandates that member states determine sampling points based on an EU-common methodology, ensuring consistency and reliability in soil health data.



Flexibility in Soil Measurements


The law provides flexibility to member states regarding soil measurements. They can use existing data and monitoring systems, which helps streamline the process.


Additionally, the law establishes minimum quality requirements for laboratories analyzing soil samples to guarantee comparability of soil measurements across the EU.



Assessment of Soil Health


The soil monitoring law retains the Commission's proposal's ambition by maintaining soil descriptors such as physical, chemical, and biological parameters. To adapt to local conditions, the law introduces a double-value system for assessing soil health.


This includes non-binding sustainable target values at the EU level and operational trigger values set by member states for each soil descriptor. This approach prioritizes and gradually implements measures to achieve healthy soil status.



Sustainable Soil Management Practices


Within five years of the directive's enactment, member states must define sustainable soil management practices, considering the guiding principles outlined in the directive. This ensures that soil management aligns with the long-term goals of soil health.



Land Take Mitigation


The soil monitoring law aims to achieve no net land take by 2050. It focuses on mitigating soil sealing and destruction, which are the most visible and impactful aspects of land take. The law incorporates mitigation principles into member states' land use planning, allowing flexibility to respect national spatial planning decisions, including those related to housing and energy transitions.



Addressing Contaminated Sites


The directive requires member states to identify and map potentially contaminated sites in a public register. The law adopts a risk-based and stepwise approach, allowing member states to prioritize measures based on potential risks, socio-economic context, and current and planned land use.


National lists of potentially contaminating activities will help identify these sites. Once identified, contaminated sites will be investigated, and any unacceptable risks to human health and the environment will be addressed.



Next Steps and Background


The Council's agreement on the general approach enables its rotating presidency to initiate discussions with the European Parliament on the final text of the law. These negotiations are expected to commence under the new legislative cycle.


The soil monitoring law is a response to the EU soil strategy presented by the Commission in 2021. The strategy highlighted the absence of dedicated EU legislation as a major cause of the alarming state of EU soils. By proposing the soil monitoring directive on July 5, 2023, the Commission aims to provide the same level of protection for soil as exists for water, the marine environment, and air in the EU. The directive's ultimate goal is to have all soils in a healthy condition by 2050, aligning with the EU Zero Pollution ambition and contributing to the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development.


In summary, the EU's soil monitoring law represents a monumental step towards ensuring soil health and sustainability. By implementing rigorous monitoring, flexible measurement, and comprehensive management practices, the EU is on the pathway to restoring and preserving its vital soil resources by 2050.


 

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