Sustainable Land Use in the European Union. Bucella, P. 2:13–20.
Sustainable Land Use in the European Union [link]Paper  abstract   bibtex   
[Excerpt: Introduction] Soil is defined as the top layer of the earth's crust. It is formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms. In fact, soil is an extremely complex, variable and living medium. It can be considered essentially as a non-renewable resource since soil formation is an extremely slow process. Soil provides us with food, biomass and raw materials. It serves as a platform for human activities and landscape. It is also an archive of heritage and plays a central role as a habitat and gene pool. It stores, filters and transforms many substances, including water, nutrients and carbon. In fact, it is the biggest carbon store in the world. Soil is, however, increasingly degrading, both in the EU and at global level. [] The degradation of soil seriously threatens its ability to provide the necessary functions for life, affecting its role for food production, climate change mitigation, biodiversity protection and the fight against desertification. It becomes more and more difficult for us to adapt to extreme weather patterns, be it a drought or a torrential rainfall, since soils with low organic matter and poor structure do not store water effectively. Furthermore, contaminated sites continue to pose serious risks if not identified and remediated. [] Soil degradation also affects our economies, with costs estimated to be in the order of tens of billion euros1. A recent study2 estimates the total cost of damage from 357 recorded floods in the EU over the 2002-2013 period at €150bn at least and suggests that investing in green infrastructure (e.g. restoring natural features to have less soil sealing) could help reduce such costs. Soil erosion is estimated to cost €53 million per year in the United Kingdom alone3. In Italy, damage caused by landslides and flooding has amounted to approximately one billion euros per year in the period 1951-20094. Also, of greatest concern are the costs of desertification and the consequences for farming, the landscape and the whole economy. [] Adding to the loss of soil quality, the ever ongoing pressure of urbanisation, infrastructure and industry is leading to substantial annual soil-sealing of agricultural land. Available data show that close to half of land take has come at the expense of arable farmland and permanent crops, nearly a third at the expense of pastures and mosaic farmland, and over 10\,% at the expense of forests and transitional woodland shrubs. [] The continued unsustainable use of soils does not only compromise the Union's domestic and international biodiversity and climate change objectives, but is also adding more and more pressure on food security. [] [...] [Continuing degradation and its transboundary consequences] Although it may seem as though nothing is more stable than the ground under our feet, it is a fact that soil moves, and problems linked to soil degradation can be felt - and must be dealt with - well beyond the areas that are degraded. [] As mentioned above, erosion, loss of organic matter, compaction, salinisation, landslides, contamination, sealing… have negative impacts on human health, natural ecosystems and climate, as well as on our economy. Not only does it come with high costs soil degradation has immense transboundary effects. [] In addition, the reduction in environmental services as a result of a loss of soil in our territory must be compensated by increased pressures on remaining soils or on the soils of other territories. [] The European Environment Agency's 2015 State of the Environment Report9 gives a bleak outlook on European land resources and soil functions. According to the synthesis report, both for the 10 year trend and the 20+ year outlook 'deteriorating trends dominate' - to stick to the wording of the SOER. This is also the message of a scientific assessment10 published by the Commission's Joint Research Centre in 2012 which found that soil degradation has worsened in recent years. [] Land degradation in its various forms is a fundamental and persistent problem. The situation in Europe is mirrored and magnified in many parts of the world. It is also a global development issue, as soil degradation, poverty and migration are mutually reinforcing, but that is often largely ignored, because observed impacts are gradual from our perspective. [] Well, what are the soil threats that we need to tackle? [::] The sealing of soil (the permanent covering of soil with an impermeable material) and associated land take lead to the loss of important soil functions (such as water filtration and storage, and food production). Between 1990 and 2000, at least 275 hectares of soil were lost per day in the EU, amounting to 1,000 km² per year11. In the period 1990-2006, 19 Member States lost a potential agricultural production capability equivalent to a total of more than 6 million tonnes of wheat - enough for providing bread to 80 million people for a year. This is a significant figure, given that agricultural productivity increases are levelling off and to compensate for the loss of one hectare of fertile land in Europe, it would be necessary to bring into use an area up to ten times larger in another part of the world12. This has also a clear transboundary dimension, as the EU will be even more dependent in future on its finite soil resources, which comprise some of the most fertile soils in the world, and to their sustainable use13. [::] A recent new model14 of soil erosion by water constructed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the Commission has estimated the surface area affected in EU-27 at 1.3 million km². Almost 20\,% of these are subjected to a soil loss in excess of 10 tonnes per hectare per year. Erosion is not only a serious problem for soil functions, it also has an impact on the quality of freshwater, as it transfers nutrients, pesticides and soil particles to water bodies. There are about one hundred transboundary river basins in the EU, 25 of which have identified soil erosion linked to agriculture as a problem. For example, the Port of Rotterdam has to dredge every year between four and seven million cubic metres of sediments, a good half of which are brought down by the River Rhine as an effect of unsustainable soil erosion upstream. Addressing soil erosion will thus be a key contribution to achieving EU water objectives. [::] Unsustainable soil management may lead to a decline of soil organic matter. This threatens soil fertility and thus Europe's agriculture and forestry production capacity. At the same time, a decline in humus has also a direct transboundary dimension because it contributes to exacerbating climate change. EU soils contain more than 70 billion tonnes of organic carbon - the equivalent to almost 50 times the EU's annual greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, European cropland emitted an average of 0.45 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (much of which resulted from land conversion)15. A statistical evaluation of the National Soil Inventory data of England and Wales in the period 1978-2003 showed that losses of soil carbon in the United Kingdom, and by inference in other temperate regions, are likely to have been offsetting absorption of carbon by terrestrial sinks16. A recent assessment of French soils observed declining carbon stocks in some clearly identified agricultural situations, most often due to changes in land uses or practices occurring over the last few decades17. The conversion of peatlands and their use is particularly worrying. For instance, although only 8\,% of farmland in Germany is on peatland, it is responsible for about 30\,% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the whole farming sector18. [::] As an extreme form of land degradation, desertification results in a serious impairment of all soil functions. Twelve Member States, including Portugal, have declared themselves affected by desertification under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification19. [::] Soil biodiversity provides numerous essential services, including releasing nutrients in forms that can be used by plants and other organisms, purifying water by removing contaminants and pathogens, contributing to the composition of the atmosphere by participating in the carbon cycle, and providing a major source of genetic and chemical resources (e.g. antibiotics). An indicator-based map prepared by the JRC20 shows that soil biodiversity is especially threatened in areas of high population density and/or intense agricultural activity. Biodiversity is a common concern across the EU and the Union as a whole has pledged to halt the loss of biodiversity by 202021. [::] Landslides are a major threat in mountainous and hilly areas across Europe (land abandonment being an aggravating factor), often producing serious impacts on population, property and infrastructure. Over 630,000 landslides are currently registered in national databases22 and their frequency and impact are likely to increase due to extreme weather events caused by climate change. [::] It is difficult to quantify the full extent of local soil contamination, as the vast majority of Member States lack comprehensive inventories. A 2013 report23 by the JRC based on national data found that there are an estimated 2.5 million potentially contaminated sites in Europe, where soil contamination is suspected and detailed investigations are needed. Of these, circa 115,000 sites have been identified as posing a significant risk to human health and the environment. Soil contamination can have transboundary consequences, for example when groundwater is affected, as shown in the Kempen area across Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany24. More generally, diffuse soil contamination may affect agricultural produce, as its quality is significantly dependent on soil characteristics. Only healthy, non-polluted soils can ensure the quality of products traded freely within the internal market, preventing health risks across boundaries. [] [...] [Conclusion] [] European soils are an vital asset, and they will become an even stronger pillar for our well-being in the future - provided we allow for that. At the beginning of the 60'ies nearly half a hectare of arable land was available per head, at the beginning of this century it was less than a quarter of a hectare, and - according to FAO - it will halve again by the middle of this century. [] Therefore, and in light of the rather bleak outlook given above, it is heartening that 2015 has been declared as the United Nations International Year of Soils. I do hope that this year will not only serve as a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of soil and encourage action at all level for the next few months, but will stir a lasting debate, resulting in effective action at EU level also beyond 2015. [] I wish to conclude this article with a quote of ecologist Aldo Leopold. Though referring to land it is valid for soil as well: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect".
@article{bucellaSustainableLandUse2015,
  title = {Sustainable Land Use in the {{European Union}}},
  author = {Bucella, Pia},
  date = {2015},
  journaltitle = {CULTIVAR Cadernos de Análise e Prospetiva},
  volume = {2},
  pages = {13--20},
  issn = {2183-5624},
  url = {http://mfkp.org/INRMM/article/13996988},
  abstract = {[Excerpt: Introduction] Soil is defined as the top layer of the earth's crust. It is formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms. In fact, soil is an extremely complex, variable and living medium. It can be considered essentially as a non-renewable resource since soil formation is an extremely slow process. Soil provides us with food, biomass and raw materials. It serves as a platform for human activities and landscape. It is also an archive of heritage and plays a central role as a habitat and gene pool. It stores, filters and transforms many substances, including water, nutrients and carbon. In fact, it is the biggest carbon store in the world. Soil is, however, increasingly degrading, both in the EU and at global level.

[] The degradation of soil seriously threatens its ability to provide the necessary functions for life, affecting its role for food production, climate change mitigation, biodiversity protection and the fight against desertification. It becomes more and more difficult for us to adapt to extreme weather patterns, be it a drought or a torrential rainfall, since soils with low organic matter and poor structure do not store water effectively. Furthermore, contaminated sites continue to pose serious risks if not identified and remediated.

[] Soil degradation also affects our economies, with costs estimated to be in the order of tens of billion euros1. A recent study2 estimates the total cost of damage from 357 recorded floods in the EU over the 2002-2013 period at €150bn at least and suggests that investing in green infrastructure (e.g. restoring natural features to have less soil sealing) could help reduce such costs. Soil erosion is estimated to cost €53 million per year in the United Kingdom alone3. In Italy, damage caused by landslides and flooding has amounted to approximately one billion euros per year in the period 1951-20094. Also, of greatest concern are the costs of desertification and the consequences for farming, the landscape and the whole economy.

[] Adding to the loss of soil quality, the ever ongoing pressure of urbanisation, infrastructure and industry is leading to substantial annual soil-sealing of agricultural land. Available data show that close to half of land take has come at the expense of arable farmland and permanent crops, nearly a third at the expense of pastures and mosaic farmland, and over 10\,\% at the expense of forests and transitional woodland shrubs.

[] The continued unsustainable use of soils does not only compromise the Union's domestic and international biodiversity and climate change objectives, but is also adding more and more pressure on food security.

[] [...]

[Continuing degradation and its transboundary consequences]

Although it may seem as though nothing is more stable than the ground under our feet, it is a fact that soil moves, and problems linked to soil degradation can be felt - and must be dealt with - well beyond the areas that are degraded.

[] As mentioned above, erosion, loss of organic matter, compaction, salinisation, landslides, contamination, sealing… have negative impacts on human health, natural ecosystems and climate, as well as on our economy. Not only does it come with high costs soil degradation has immense transboundary effects.

[] In addition, the reduction in environmental services as a result of a loss of soil in our territory must be compensated by increased pressures on remaining soils or on the soils of other territories.

[] The European Environment Agency's 2015 State of the Environment Report9 gives a bleak outlook on European land resources and soil functions. According to the synthesis report, both for the 10 year trend and the 20+ year outlook 'deteriorating trends dominate' - to stick to the wording of the SOER. This is also the message of a scientific assessment10 published by the Commission's Joint Research Centre in 2012 which found that soil degradation has worsened in recent years.

[] Land degradation in its various forms is a fundamental and persistent problem. The situation in Europe is mirrored and magnified in many parts of the world. It is also a global development issue, as soil degradation, poverty and migration are mutually reinforcing, but that is often largely ignored, because observed impacts are gradual from our perspective.

[] Well, what are the soil threats that we need to tackle?

[::] The sealing of soil (the permanent covering of soil with an impermeable material) and associated land take lead to the loss of important soil functions (such as water filtration and storage, and food production). Between 1990 and 2000, at least 275 hectares of soil were lost per day in the EU, amounting to 1,000 km² per year11. In the period 1990-2006, 19 Member States lost a potential agricultural production capability equivalent to a total of more than 6 million tonnes of wheat - enough for providing bread to 80 million people for a year. This is a significant figure, given that agricultural productivity increases are levelling off and to compensate for the loss of one hectare of fertile land in Europe, it would be necessary to bring into use an area up to ten times larger in another part of the world12. This has also a clear transboundary dimension, as the EU will be even more dependent in future on its finite soil resources, which comprise some of the most fertile soils in the world, and to their sustainable use13.

[::] A recent new model14 of soil erosion by water constructed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the Commission has estimated the surface area affected in EU-27 at 1.3 million km². Almost 20\,\% of these are subjected to a soil loss in excess of 10 tonnes per hectare per year. Erosion is not only a serious problem for soil functions, it also has an impact on the quality of freshwater, as it transfers nutrients, pesticides and soil particles to water bodies. There are about one hundred transboundary river basins in the EU, 25 of which have identified soil erosion linked to agriculture as a problem. For example, the Port of Rotterdam has to dredge every year between four and seven million cubic metres of sediments, a good half of which are brought down by the River Rhine as an effect of unsustainable soil erosion upstream. Addressing soil erosion will thus be a key contribution to achieving EU water objectives.

[::] Unsustainable soil management may lead to a decline of soil organic matter. This threatens soil fertility and thus Europe's agriculture and forestry production capacity. At the same time, a decline in humus has also a direct transboundary dimension because it contributes to exacerbating climate change. EU soils contain more than 70 billion tonnes of organic carbon - the equivalent to almost 50 times the EU's annual greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, European cropland emitted an average of 0.45 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (much of which resulted from land conversion)15. A statistical evaluation of the National Soil Inventory data of England and Wales in the period 1978-2003 showed that losses of soil carbon in the United Kingdom, and by inference in other temperate regions, are likely to have been offsetting absorption of carbon by terrestrial sinks16. A recent assessment of French soils observed declining carbon stocks in some clearly identified agricultural situations, most often due to changes in land uses or practices occurring over the last few decades17. The conversion of peatlands and their use is particularly worrying. For instance, although only 8\,\% of farmland in Germany is on peatland, it is responsible for about 30\,\% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the whole farming sector18.

[::] As an extreme form of land degradation, desertification results in a serious impairment of all soil functions. Twelve Member States, including Portugal, have declared themselves affected by desertification under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification19.

[::] Soil biodiversity provides numerous essential services, including releasing nutrients in forms that can be used by plants and other organisms, purifying water by removing contaminants and pathogens, contributing to the composition of the atmosphere by participating in the carbon cycle, and providing a major source of genetic and chemical resources (e.g. antibiotics). An indicator-based map prepared by the JRC20 shows that soil biodiversity is especially threatened in areas of high population density and/or intense agricultural activity. Biodiversity is a common concern across the EU and the Union as a whole has pledged to halt the loss of biodiversity by 202021.

[::] Landslides are a major threat in mountainous and hilly areas across Europe (land abandonment being an aggravating factor), often producing serious impacts on population, property and infrastructure. Over 630,000 landslides are currently registered in national databases22 and their frequency and impact are likely to increase due to extreme weather events caused by climate change.

[::] It is difficult to quantify the full extent of local soil contamination, as the vast majority of Member States lack comprehensive inventories. A 2013 report23 by the JRC based on national data found that there are an estimated 2.5 million potentially contaminated sites in Europe, where soil contamination is suspected and detailed investigations are needed. Of these, circa 115,000 sites have been identified as posing a significant risk to human health and the environment. Soil contamination can have transboundary consequences, for example when groundwater is affected, as shown in the Kempen area across Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany24. More generally, diffuse soil contamination may affect agricultural produce, as its quality is significantly dependent on soil characteristics. Only healthy, non-polluted soils can ensure the quality of products traded freely within the internal market, preventing health risks across boundaries.

[] [...]

[Conclusion]

[] European soils are an vital asset, and they will become an even stronger pillar for our well-being in the future - provided we allow for that. At the beginning of the 60'ies nearly half a hectare of arable land was available per head, at the beginning of this century it was less than a quarter of a hectare, and - according to FAO - it will halve again by the middle of this century.

[] Therefore, and in light of the rather bleak outlook given above, it is heartening that 2015 has been declared as the United Nations International Year of Soils. I do hope that this year will not only serve as a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of soil and encourage action at all level for the next few months, but will stir a lasting debate, resulting in effective action at EU level also beyond 2015.

[] I wish to conclude this article with a quote of ecologist Aldo Leopold. Though referring to land it is valid for soil as well: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect".},
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}
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