Over 1,000 sq km of soil disappearing from EU every year due to development

Over 1,000 sq km of soil disappearing from EU every year due to development

Ireland South MEP Grace O'Sullivan says provisions to protect soil are long overdue.

A landmark environmental agreement between EU powerbrokers includes a proposal for bloc-wide soil protection for the first time — "one of the sweetest parts of the deal", according to the Irish MEP who led negotiations on behalf of her colleagues.

Ireland South MEP Grace O'Sullivan said provisions to protect soil are long overdue. According to the largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations in Europe, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), some 1,000 sq km of soil is disappearing every year due to development.

The Tramore-based Green Party MEP said that, unlike air and water, no EU legislation exists to regulate soil health. 

Last week, MEPs, the European Commission, and the European Council (made up of heads of state), it was agreed to propose EU-wide rules for soil protection in 2023. The agreement was made under the 8th Environment Action Programme to 2030 (8EAP) plan.

The months-long negotiations on 8EAP aim to guide European environmental policy until 2030, and also covers a commitment to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in the coming years.

Ms O'Sullivan told the Irish Examiner that it had long been an ambition to legislate for soil protection, considering its importance.

"The really sweet thing for me in the whole process is that we have in there that we finally legislate for soil health in 2023," she said. 

This, to me, is part of the systemic change we need, so that when soil is over-fertilised or when we are using synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), this new soil directive will actually be pushing against all of the negative impacts on soil and towards zero pollution.

According to the EEB, more than 25% of the EU’s land is affected by soil erosion and 1,000 sq km disappears every year in Europe under expanding cities and infrastructure.

Some 95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils, the EEB says.

"More carbon is stored in soil than in the atmosphere and in vegetation combined — it is the second biggest reservoir of carbon on the planet, next to the oceans," it stated. 

Fertile soil also prevents erosion, retains water, reduces flood risks, and hosts organisms with pharmaceutical potential

Destructive human activities have stripped the soil of its richness through vegetation destruction, erosion, and contamination, it stated.

"Three hundred hectares of soil are lost every day," it stated. "Between 1990 and 2000, in the EU alone, 136 hectares of land, the equivalent to 200 football pitches, was sealed under cement or concrete every day."

Pesticides and chemical fertilisers kill life in the soil and make plants dependent on them, it said.

Farmers are then "caught in a vicious circle where they are forced to buy ever more expensive chemicals to keep up with production rates", it added.

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