Land & Soil

Land and soil provide feed, fibre, food and fuel, store and filter water, sequester carbon, offer a habitat for billions of organisms and serve as the foundation for our cities and towns. Land and soil are limited resources and yet, they are over-exploited, degraded and irreversibly lost due to inappropriate land management practices, industrial activities and land use changes. The Commission estimates that the area of undeveloped land taken into development exceeds 1000 km2 per year in the EU, with over half of this surface sealed. Increasing land take, loss of soil functions and ecosystem services has been recognised in the EU as one of the major environmental and socio-economic challenges in Europe. In 2006, the EU adopted a Soil Thematic Strategy aiming to protect soil and ensure its sustainable use and in 2011 the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe included the goal of achieving no net land take by 2050.

Since 2014, Milieu has been working on a variety of projects supporting the Commission and the European Environmental Agency in identifying opportunities for protecting land and soil at EU level more effectively. Some highlights of our projects in this area include:

The EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme calls for land degradation, including land take, to be addressed. The Roadmap for a resource-efficient Europe states that by 2020 the direct and indirect impacts of EU policies on land use should be assessed.

Milieu led this study and carried out a pilot assessment of Cohesion Policy, transport policy, energy policy, the Common Agricultural Policy and nature conservation and water management policies. In addition, Milieu experts carried out in-depth assessments of the impacts of EU Cohesion Policy and Transport policy in Member States, via case studies of Poland and of Andalusia, Spain. The case studies investigated how EU policy implementation interacts with national policy and institutional contexts at different administrative levels.

The loss of soil fertility and the consequent massive use of expensive external nutrient inputs, notably nitrogen and phosphorous, means it becomes increasingly difficult for European crop production to remain competitive in the global market. Therefore, more sustainable crop management strategies are needed to maintain or increase soil fertility. Inappropriate soil and water management and the overuse of external inputs in intensive crop production systems represent an economic loss for the farmer and a significant burden for the environment, and can have a subsequent impact on human health. SoilCare (a research project funded under the EU Horizon 2020 programme) aims to identify and evaluate promising crop management strategies and agronomic techniques increasing profitability and sustainability across Europe.

Since 2016, Milieu has been leading the policy work in SoilCare. Milieu contributes to this work by assessing the shortcomings and opportunities of promoting wider uptake of these practices through the existing policy landscape at EU level and across the 16 European countries represented in the project.

Land and soil play an important role in many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015. This is especially the case in SDG 15, which aims to ‘Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss’.

In early 2019, Milieu started working on a study for DG Environment tracking the progress of the implementation of land and soil-related Sustainable Development Goals at EU level. As part of this project, Milieu is developing an analysis of the state of play of implementation of land and soil-related SDGs in the EU and is organising a conference to provide a platform for exchange of best practices between the Commission, Member States, civil society and economic sectors.