New Soil Law offers glimmer of hope for EU soils but lacks teeth
Today, the European Commission adopted its long-anticipated food and biodiversity package of legislative measures aimed to strengthen the resilience of EU food systems and farming, including a legislative proposal for a Directive on Soil Monitoring and Resilience (or in short, the Soil Monitoring Law).
The package is introduced by a Communication on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources that establishes a link between the proposed Soil Law and earlier proposals on the Nature Restoration Regulation, both underpinning the nature pillar of the European Green Deal. These proposals are closely linked to each other and to the need for climate action: healthy soils absorb more carbon, retain more water and protect from droughts.
We welcome the publication of the proposal for the Soil Law, especially recognising the ongoing pushback and misinformation campaigns against the European Green Deal orchestrated by some conservative politicians and vested lobbies. An ambitious Soil Law is desperately needed to fill the legal vacuum and give soil the same footing that air, water and marine environments have long had. A coherent European approach to soil protection and restoration is long overdue. We therefore support this initiative and urge the EU institutions to adopt an ambitious and improved Soil Law swiftly and thoroughly.
The EU Soil Strategy for 2030 provides the framework towards protecting and restoring soils, and ensuring that they are used sustainably. In the Strategy, the EU committed to adopt the new Soil Health Law to protect and restore soils and ensure that they are used sustainably. The Commission’s proposal today is the first step towards that commitment. The proposal provides a harmonised definition of soil health, puts in place a comprehensive and coherent monitoring framework and fosters sustainable soil management and remediation of contaminated sites. However, the change in the name of the directive, which was originally to be called ‘Soil Health Law’, is of significance: It shows that the main aim of the directive has been limited to monitoring the state of soils across the EU, not to restore Europe’s soils back to good health. This is very disappointing and once again leaves the health of our soils up to chance.
To effectively improve the state of European soils and put soil health into focus, this proposal must be significantly improved. With a current lack of ambition, no legally binding targets and no focus on soil biodiversity, it falls way short of expectations.
It will now be up to co-legislators to transform this proposal into an effective tool for change. Healthy soil ecosystems connect the dots between many of our greatest challenges, including the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises, as well as food security. In order to meet these challenges, the Soil Health Law must be ambitious and well-designed.
Caroline Heinzel, Associate Policy Officer for Soil at the European Environmental Bureau, said:
“While we welcome the publication of this crucial piece of legislation, we are disappointed with the lack of ambition. Soil ecosystems are one of our most important lifelines in the face of the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises. Unfortunately, the proposal falls short of expectations by not including legally binding targets or requiring mandatory plans and by not sufficiently recognising the functional role of soil biodiversity. Renaming the ‘Soil Law’ suggests the focus has switched to simply observing soil health rather than ensuring its improvement. Now it’s up to the co-legislators to make the necessary changes to ensure that it becomes an effective tool to urgently protect and restore the health of EU soils!”
Notes to editors
Earlier this year we released our position paper on what would make then ‘Soil Health Law’ an effective tool for change. Read about our analysis and policy recommendations.