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Consultation about the proposal of a Soil Health Law
Position Paper, March 2022
SOIL HEALTH: CIVIL SOCIETY CALLS FOR EUROPEAN LEADERSHIP IN THE CHALLENGE TO COMBAT LAND DEGRADATION
Soil is a limited, irreplaceable and non-renewable environmental heritage, of which any degradation representsa loss for present and future generations. Combating soil degradation is crucial to overcome global challenges, framed by the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, starting from those related to food security, sustainability of cities, protection of biodiversity, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, prevention of desertification. It is essential for the establishment of a bioeconomy capable of developing safe alternatives to dependence on fossil resources, pursuing circularity in the use of materials. Healthy soils are also the result and, at the same time, prerequisite of the agroecological transition in the food systems.These are some of the reasons why healthy soils are the seedbed in which the European Green Deal should take root.
Soil protection in Europe requires a concert of actions by all private and public actors, who in various titles hold a right of ownership, a mandate of administration over land, or indirectly influence land use and soil health through market power. Administrative powers, as well as the expression of national sovereignty, and the exercise of property rights are not in question within their respective borders, but the poor health conditions of soils and the threats they suffer, amplified by the effects of climate change, give rise to a framework of environmental concerns and social risks extended to a supranational dimension. Soil also has features of a common good, its governance requires the seeking of participatory solutions. Reversal of soil degradation trends in Europe requires action programs, inclusive and coordinated, whose effectiveness depends on a sound European leadership and a concurrence of responsibilities by all Member States, with the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity: subsidiarity is not a limit to action, but a positive tension for coordinated actions in areas that require shared efforts. This is certainly the case for soil, on whose health, like on the quality of water and air, depends the provision of ecosystem services essential to the lives of humans and of all organisms populating terrestrial habitats.
A European Soil Health Law is urgently needed to make credible the challenge of reducing soil degradation, developing a set of regulative tools and levers to guide the behavior of economic, social and institutional actors, supporting their choices consistently with shared targets in order to preserve biodiversity, food security, natural carbon sinks, citizens’ health and the quality and safety of food production, which depend on soil. It is also essential to establish a level playing field for businesses in transactions involving land uses that may affect the ability of soil to provide ecosystem services.
All that premised,
we are aware of the presence of important knowledge gaps about the state of soil at the level of territorial representation: the huge diversity of soil types and the strongly site-specific character of soil interactions with climatic, biological, geological and land-use-related pressures constitute a major problem in drawing accurate maps at a detailed scale, that only partly can be realistically filled by the improvement of soil evaluation techniques. For this reason, we consider the development of a tool such as the soil health index at the level of individual land parcels, to be calculated and used in each single land transactions, to be a key innovation: acknowledging that the commercial valuation of soil cannot disregard its health status is an element of transparency in trade but, above all, it is a useful incentive to evaluate and enhance the efforts of soil care implemented by the owners.