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Speed, energy and decision are needed to push for an effective soil protection law to mitigate climate change

SER Europe raises deep doubts about the suitability of the European Soil Monitoring and Resilience Directive and its potential to achieve its objectives. Image: Ivan Bandura, Unsplash, public domain.
SER Europe raises deep doubts about the suitability of the European Soil Monitoring and Resilience Directive and its potential to achieve its objectives. Image: Ivan Bandura, Unsplash, public domain.

The Society for Ecological Restoration Europe (SERE) raises serious doubts about the adequacy of the European Soil Monitoring and Resilience Directive and its potential to achieve its objectives. However, SERE admits that this initiative is an important step towards the implementation of a system for monitoring and surveillance of the state of European soils. This position has been made public in a report co-authored by CREAF researcher Pilar Andrés Pastor, a specialist in soil ecology and biodiversity, and Pere Rovira Castellà, a researcher at the Center for Forest Science and Technology of Catalonia, a soil scientist and carbon expert.

According to SER Europe’s president –the professor of Ecology and researcher at the University of Alicante Jordi Cortina-Segarra–, the report states that “the proposed Directive falls short of expectations, especially after the failure of the 2006 Soil Framework Directive, which was withdrawn in 2014”. SER Europe’s position emphasizes that the directive does not take into account all the threats facing the earth, and is not ambitious enough to prevent further degradation. It also states that “there is still a lack of effective legal instruments” to contain degradation. Researcher Pilar Andrés stresses that the proposal “leaves soil biodiversity particularly unprotected”.

The importance of healthy soil is that it contributes to absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and is one of the guarantees for sustainable food production.

The urgency of restoring soils

"Characterizing soils is essential to protect them: it is hopeless that the ambition of the proposed Directive remains at a stage prior to taking action for a real strategy of protection and restoration"

The European Soil Monitoring and Resilience Directive establishes guidelines for characterizing the state of soil health and subsequent monitoring. This legal text replaces the European Soil Health Law, long awaited by the environmental sector, and from which “urgent measures were expected to guarantee the restoration of degraded soils and the protection of those at risk of degradation”, in the words of Pilar Andrés Pastor and Jordi Cortina-Segarra.

“We must go faster and with more energy and decision towards a truly effective soil protection law, to mitigate climate change and adapt the management of our ecosystems”

PILAR ANDRÉS PASTOR, CREAF researcher

The document presented by SER Europe also stresses the importance of the urgency of achieving an effective legal framework to protect and recover the environmental services provided by our soils, as an essential requirement for achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal and in order for the European Union to meet its commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals.

From a legal and enforcement point of view, it is the European Parliament’s responsibility to adopt this proposal for a Directive, as well as the Nature Restoration Law, which is expected to be adopted in February 2024.

Beyond LUCAS

There are some scientific reservations that the new Directive will perpetuate some of the limitations of the European Union’s Land Use and Coverage Area frame Survey (LUCAS). This periodic survey provides data on highly sensitive socio-environmental challenges, such as the impact of infrastructure or the destruction of ecosystems and natural habitats, and their impact on the hydrological balance and agriculture.

Science has reservations about the new Directive perpetuating some of the limitations of the EU's LUCAS survey, whose data define and underpin European policies such as agriculture, the Soil Protection Strategy, the Biodiversity Strategy 2030, Agenda 2030, Climate Action, the European Green Pact and Copernicus.

The data provided by LUCAS are used to define and monitor European policies such as agriculture, the Soil Protection Strategy, the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the 2030 Agenda, the Climate Action, the European Green Pact, and also Copernicus, the Earth observation, spatial planning and resource management program.

Regarding the usefulness of the European survey for monitoring soil health, the researcher Pilar Andrés Pastor states that “LUCAS provides limited information on crucial components. In particular, edaphic biodiversity is incorrectly addressed, and is crucial data for diagnosing the soil’s capacity to provide the environmental services demanded by society”. The CREAF researcher considers the indicators used by the European survey LUCAS to be insufficient: “they only partially contemplate microbial diversity and forget the trophic network that nourishes and controls it. Moreover, LUCAS only measures biodiversity indicators in part of the points of the sampling grid, which would make the monitoring design manifestly insufficient”.

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