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Document 52021SC0323


SWD/2021/323 final

Brussels, 17.11.2021

SWD(2021) 323 final



Accompanying the document


EU Soil Strategy for 2030

Reaping the benefits of healthy soils for people, food, nature and climate

{COM(2021) 699 final}

Table of Contents

Part I: Knowledge base in support of the new Soil Strategy    

1.    Introduction: political and legal context    

1.1.    Soil and the European Green Deal    

1.2.    EU soil policy: from the 2006 Soil Thematic Strategy to the European Green Deal    

1.2.1.    The 2006 Soil Thematic Strategy and the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive    

1.2.2.    Learning from the Soil Framework Directive proposal of 2006    

1.2.3.    The EU Expert Group on Soil Protection    

1.2.4.    Gaps in EU soil policy    

2.    What are the problems?    

3.    Why should the EU act?    

3.1.    Legal basis    

3.2.    Subsidiarity: necessity and added value of EU action    

3.2.1.    The costs of no action    

3.2.2.    Transboundary impacts of soil degradation    

3.3.    The position of other EU institutions on a renewed EU soil policy framework    

3.3.1.    European Court of Auditors    

3.3.2.    European Parliament    

3.3.3.    Council of the EU    

3.3.4.    Committee of the Regions    

3.3.5.    The European Citizen Initiative ‘People4Soil’    

3.4.    Knowledge base in support of the actions envisaged in the Strategy    

3.4.1.    Soil organic matter and climate change    

3.4.2.    Considerations for a test-soil-for-free initiative    

3.4.3.    Soil and circular economy    

3.4.4.    Organic farming, soil health and climate change    

3.4.5.    The role of soil biodiversity for above-ground biodiversity and human health    

3.4.6.    Preventing soil contamination    

3.4.7.    Remediation of soil contamination and brownfields    

3.4.8.    Soil and the digital agenda    

3.4.9.    Soil monitoring    

4.    How to achieve commitments    

4.1.    A strategic approach    

4.2.    Enablers    

4.2.1.    Funding    

4.2.2.    Governance    

4.2.3.    Promoting and contributing to global action    

Part II: Synopsis report of the open public consultation    

1.    Consultation Strategy    

2.    Roadmap    

2.1. Introduction    

2.2. Overview of the feedback received    

3.    Open Public Consultation    

3.1.    Introduction    

3.2.    Summary of the replies    

3.3.    Analysis of the replies to the open question    

3.4.    Position Papers    

3.4.1.    Public authorities    

3.4.2.    NGOs and environmental organizations    

3.4.3.    Companies, business organisations and associations    

3.4.4.    Academic and research institutions    

3.4.5.    EU citizens    

3.4.6.    Non-EU citizens    

4.    Other consultations of Member States and stakeholders    

4.1.    Consultations of Member States through the EU Expert Group on Soil Protection    

4.2.    Dedicated workshops and conferences    

Part I: Knowledge base in support of the new Soil Strategy

1.Introduction: political and legal context

1.1. Soil and the European Green Deal

1.2. EU soil policy: from the 2006 Soil Thematic Strategy to the European Green Deal

1.2.1.The 2006 Soil Thematic Strategy and the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive

·Integration of soil protection in the formulation and implementation of national and EU policies;

·Closing the recognised knowledge gap in certain areas of soil protection through research supported by EU and national research programmes;

·Increasing public awareness of the need to protect soil;

·Development of framework legislation with protection and sustainable use of soil as its principal aim.

1.2.2.Learning from the Soil Framework Directive proposal of 2006

1.2.3.The EU Expert Group on Soil Protection

Based on the mandate that “the Union and its Member States should also reflect as soon as possible on how soil quality issues could be addressed using a targeted and proportionate risk-based approach within a binding legal framework" enshrined in the 7th EU Environment Action Programme 12 the Commission set up an expert group with soil specialists nominated by the Member States and with a connection with national authorities dealing with soil issues at a political level. The expert group met for the first time in October 2015 and since then has been supporting the Commission in the development of the element of the new EU soil policy framework. An overview of the discussions in the EU Soil Expert Group is included in the second part of this SWD.

1.2.4.Gaps in EU soil policy

·The Sewage Sludge Directive regulates the use of sewage sludge on agricultural land and sets limit values for heavy metals in sludge and in the soil on which sludge is applied.

·The Industrial Emissions Directive sets an obligation for certain operators to produce a baseline report and periodic monitoring of the soil and groundwater condition, and to return them to their initial status upon cessation of the activities.

·The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) Regulation includes an obligation to report emissions to soil.

·The Common Agricultural Policy includes measures for soil sustainable management, such as the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) 19 , the obligation of crop diversification under greening, and the rural development support for investments in forests, agro-environment and climate measures and organic farming.

·The Environmental Liability Directive establishes an EU-wide liability regime for damage to land, based on the polluter pays principle.

·The Waste Framework Directive and the Landfill Directive lay down rules to prevent risks from waste management and landfilling to soil and the environment.

·The Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) Regulation aims to ensure that the LULUCF sector does not generate net emissions and contributes to the enhancement of sinks in forests and soils (no-debit obligation).

·EU water legislation establishes a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters, groundwater, drinking water and the management of flood risks. These provisions have a beneficial impact on the soil-sediment-water system.

·National Emissions Directive sets emission reduction commitments for air pollutants, including heavy metals and persistent organic compounds in soil.

·EU legislation on specific substances such as the Fertilising Products Regulation, the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, the Plant Protection Products Regulation,, the Mercury Regulation or the Persistent Organic Pollutants Regulation contribute to the prevention of soil pollution and the improvement of soil quality.

·The Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment Directives require that the significant effects of certain projects, plans and programmes on land and soil should be assessed.

·The Nitrates Directive aims protecting waters against pollution with nitrates from agriculture and sets a maximum for manure that can be applied on land.

·That soil protection is an outcome mostly derived from the protecting of other environmental resources, addressing other environmental threats or delivering other goals or targets;

·Key policies that offer some strategic vision are non-binding. As such they cannot be used as a clear basis for integrating and reinforcing the protection of soil within existing EU laws in the way that, for example, water protection laws such as the Water Framework Directive can be cross referenced within the Industrial Emission Directive (IED) 20 or under Statutory Management Requirements set out in CAP cross-compliance.

·Land protection may not equate to soil protection. Thus, land is not protected against soil sealing at the EU level and insufficiently at Member State level. In some key EU policies protection from contamination is focused on land protection and not explicitly on soil protection. These are not necessarily one and the same thing. Land can be protected but important soil functionality can be lost.

·Historic contamination that persisted before the introduction of key EU policies, such as IED (and prior to IED, the IPPC Directive 21 ) and the Environmental Liability Directive 22 is not addressed by EU laws and there are no binding rules in place for detecting or defining contaminated sites.

·There is limited elaboration in EU law of soil functions, what these consist of and the actions that their protection implies. Moreover, a question has also emerged during the study regarding the elaboration of the role of ecosystem services provided by soils and the limited representation of these in legal texts.

2.What are the problems? 

3.Why should the EU act?

3.1. Legal basis 

3.2. Subsidiarity: necessity and added value of EU action 

3.2.1.The costs of no action

3.2.2.Transboundary impacts of soil degradation

3.3.The position of other EU institutions on a renewed EU soil policy framework 

3.3.1.European Court of Auditors

1.“The Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, should: (a) establish a methodology and relevant indicators –starting with the UNCCD’s three indicators – to assess the extent of desertification and land degradation in the EU; (b) based on agreed methodology, collate and analyse relevant data on desertification and land degradation, much of which is already being collected, and regularly present it in a clear, user-friendly way for public use, preferably in the form of interactive maps for use in the EU.

2.The Commission should assess the appropriateness of the current legal framework for the sustainable use of soil across the EU, including addressing desertification and land degradation.

3.The Commission should: (a) further detail how the EU’s commitment to land degradation neutrality will be achieved by 2030, and report periodically on progress; (b) provide guidance to Member States on practical aspects of preserving soil and achieving land degradation neutrality in the EU, including dissemination of good practices; (c) on their request, provide technical support to Member States to establish national action plans to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030, including identifying targeted measures, clear milestones, and a plan for intermediate reporting at Member State level.”

3.3.2.European Parliament 

3.3.3.Council of the EU

The Council in its Conclusions of October 2020 on the new Biodiversity Strategy indicated it “SUPPORTS the Commission in stepping up efforts to better protect soils and soil biodiversity, as a non-renewable resource of vital importance, as well as to reduce soil sealing, and REAFFIRMS the EU’s commitment to reaching land-degradation neutrality; WELCOMES the planned update of the EU Soil Thematic Strategy; STRESSES the need to promptly address desertification and land degradation in the EU; REITERATES the will to make progress towards the objective of ‘zero net land take’ by 2050”. 72

In reply to an oral question from the European Parliament 73 , the Council confirmed that it remains fully committed to the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and SDG 15.3, which aims to combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, droughts and floods, and strives to achieve a land degradation neutral world by 2030. The Council welcomed the planned update of the 2006 EU Soil Thematic Strategy, which aims to address soil and land degradation within the EU in a comprehensive way, and looked forward to the adoption of this strategy by the Commission. The Council Presidency remains fully committed and determined to work with the Parliament and the Commission on soil protection once the updated Soil Strategy has been put forward and on any emerging initiatives that are proposed in this regard.

3.3.4.Committee of the Regions

The Committee of the Regions adopted in February 2021 an opinion on agro-ecology which “calls on the European Commission to propose a new European directive on agricultural soils to halt the decrease in their organic matter content, stop erosion and prioritise soil life in agricultural practices”. 74

3.3.5.The European Citizen Initiative People4Soil

On 11 July 2016, the Commission received via the ECI register a request for registration of a proposed European Citizen Initiative titled "People4Soil: sign the citizens' initiative to save the soils of Europe!". The proposed initiative stated that "soil is one of the most strategic resources of Europe, as it ensures food security, biodiversity conservation and climate change regulation. It's time to protect the soils of Europe".

The main objectives of the proposed initiative were as follows: "Recognize soil as a shared heritage that needs EU level protection, as it provides essential benefits connected to human well-being and environmental resilience; develop a dedicated legally binding framework covering the main soil threats: erosion, sealing, organic matter decline, biodiversity loss and contamination; integrate soil related UN Sustainable Development Goals into EU policies; properly account and reduce greenhouse gases emissions from the farming and forestry sectors."

The Commission examined the proposed citizens' initiative to ascertain whether it met the conditions laid down in the concerned Regulation and decided to register the proposed initiative on 12 September 2016. While this ECI gathered the support of more than 500 organization from 26 EU countries, it did not manage to reach the target set in the Regulation of 1 million signatures. However, with over 220.000 signatures collected according to the strict rules of the ECI, it mobilised a large number of citizens and organisations in almost all EU countries to get involved in EU policy-making and raised awareness on the need for soil protection in the EU.

3.4.Knowledge base in support of the actions envisaged in the Strategy 

3.4.1.Soil organic matter and climate change

Climate change has a major impact on soil, and changes in land use and soil can either accelerate or slow down climate change, and vice versa. Thus, to be on track for climate neutrality in 2050, the EU needs to reverse the current decline in land-based removals and start implementing actions to increase removals already in this decade, in order to account for the long lead times of land-based climate mitigation. An integrated sustainable approach linked with soil health may contribute to a significant resilience under adverse conditions. Increasing soil organic carbon is the best way to mitigate climate change and to ensure food security.

Soil organic matter (SOM) is soil organic carbon (SOC) in a form readily available to plants and is directly linked to soil fertility. Increasing SOM not only binds CO2 thus contributing to climate change mitigation, but also offers many co-benefits for soil biodiversity, soil structure, water holding capacity, increased nutrient cycling while preventing nutrient loss, and biological pest control 75 , making soil more resilient to disturbances and weather extremes.

Mineral soils are soils with a carbon content below 20% although most mineral soils contain below 5%. Around 45% of EU soils have low or very low organic carbon content (below 2%) 83 . There is a biophysical potential to sequester between 11 to 38 MtCO2eq annually in Europe 84  (9 to 30 MtCO2eq annually in EU27)) if a range of management practices which have already been identified are applied on a larger scale in arable land. 

Figure 2: how soils can store more carbon. Source: 4 per 1000 initiative 85

Land use change and unsustainable soil management have caused, and are still causing, organic and mineral soils to lose carbon, and with it part of their fertility, their capacity to absorb and retain water and the other co-benefits. Loss of SOM is highly relevant for climate change. Restoring soils that have lost SOM can be done by applying sustainable soil management (SSM), in particular agroecology and agroforestry principles. Several initiatives have been launched to promote soil as carbon sink. The Regulation on Land Use, Forestry and Agriculture proposes an overall EU target for carbon removals by natural sinks, equivalent to 310 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030 86 . National targets will require Member States to care for and expand their carbon sinks to meet this target. By 2035, the EU should aim to reach climate neutrality in the land use, forestry and agriculture sectors, including also agricultural non-CO2 emissions, such as those from fertiliser use and livestock.

One of the initiatives contributing to this target is "4 per 1000", launched by France in 2015 at the COP 21, to encourage stakeholders to transition towards a productive, highly resilient agriculture, based on the appropriate management of lands and soils, creating jobs and incomes hence ensuring sustainable development 87 . This initiative consists of a voluntary action plan under the Global Climate Action Agenda 88 accompanied with an ambitious research programme, and ultimately aiming at an annual growth rate of 0.4% in the soil carbon stocks, or 4‰ per year, in the first 30-40 cm of soil, which would significantly reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

The carbon farming initiative

The European Commission has published the final report of a two-year study on how to set up and implement carbon farming in the EU 89 . Building on this study and on the input from several EU-funded projects and events, the Commission plans to launch the carbon farming initiative by the end of 2021 90 .

The study “Technical Guidance Handbook – setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming mechanisms in the EU”, carried out from 2018 to 2020, explored key issues, challenges, trade-offs and design options to develop carbon farming. It reviewed existing schemes that reward climate-related benefits in five promising areas: peatland restoration and rewetting, agroforestry, maintaining and enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) on mineral soils, managing SOC on grasslands, and livestock farm carbon audit. It also explored how a widespread adoption of carbon farming can be triggered in the EU.

The study concludes that result-based carbon farming can contribute significantly in the EU’s efforts to tackle climate change, bringing benefits in terms of carbon sequestration and storage and other co-benefits, such as increased biodiversity and preservation of ecosystems.

Robust certification rules for carbon sequestration in agriculture are the first step to enable farmers to sell certificates to private companies. The Commission will develop a regulatory framework to monitor and verify the authenticity of carbon removals in agriculture and forestry, providing an additional incentive on top of CAP payments for carbon farming. The new EU Carbon Farming Initiative will promote this new business model. A platform for exchange of experiences and mutual learning around the development of result-based carbon farming schemes could be part of such initiative, and could facilitate scheme development.

The aim of the carbon farming study was to produce technical guidance for setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming schemes in EU Member States with reference to opportunities for support under a future CAP. This is intended to offset emission from the land using sector and to carbon sequestration. The guidance includes information on generic principles and worked examples as to how Member States could set up carbon farming schemes relevant to arable and livestock management, and land use conversion.

3.4.2.Considerations for a test-soil-for-free initiative

3.4.3.Soil and circular economy

3.4.4.Organic farming, soil health and climate change

3.4.5.The role of soil biodiversity for above-ground biodiversity and human health

Soils are living ecosystems, approximately half air and water, 45% minerals, and 5% organic matter. Of that 5%, only 10% is alive, but that 10% contains some of the greatest biodiversity in the biosphere 96 . Soil organisms include earthworms, mites, centipedes and millipedes, tardigrades, springtails, ants, ground beetles, nematodes, protists, fungi and bacteria, but by far the most abundant are microorganisms (fungi and bacteria) and microfauna (nematodes).

Figure 3: approximate number and diversity of organisms typically found in a handful of grassland soil 97

Soils are one of the main global reservoirs of biodiversity. By one set of estimates, they host one fourth of world biodiversity, while more than more than 40% of living organisms in terrestrial ecosystems are associated during their life-cycle directly with soils 98 .

Soil organisms form food webs which drive soil ecosystem processes, including nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, nitrogen storage and water purification 99 . Soil organisms are also source of compounds for medical purposes. However, due to an increasing use of antibiotics for farming, the diffusion of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in soil microorganisms (i.e. bacteria) is becoming an issue of relevance for animal and human health. Nonetheless, a complete understanding on large-scale distribution of soil AMR genes (i.e. genes that lead to antimicrobial resistance) is missing. Filling such knowledge gap could assure for better development of risk assessments for AMR within agriculture, and risks analysis through the food chain to animals and humans.

Advances in environmental genomics have revealed the enormous diversity of fungi and bacteria associated with plant roots. They play diverse roles, for example promoting plant growth through enhancing plant nutrition and protecting plants from herbivores and pathogens 100 The total biomass belowground generally equals or exceeds that aboveground, whilst the biodiversity in the soil always exceeds that on the associated surface by orders of magnitude, particularly at the microbial scale 101 .

Soil biodiversity provides essential ecosystem services 102 for human wellbeing:


Figure 4: a conceptual scheme of the relationship between soil biodiversity, ecosystem services and human wellbeing 103

·The enormous network of fungi connects tiny roots (rootlets) to a wider array of soil nutrients (e.g. phosphorus) and water. This helps plants growing and is vital in the food chain.

·Soils are also a major reservoir for medicines: over 75% of antibacterial agents and 60% of new cancer drugs approved between 1983 and 1994 had their origin in soils, as did 60% of all newly approved drugs between 1989 and 1995 104 .

·Soil microorganisms, especially fungi, can be used for bioremediation purposes. Due to their capability to degrade toxic compounds and pollutants, they can be applied to (soil) restoration processes 105 .

What leads to soil biodiversity loss? 

Factors that lead to biodiversity loss include habitat fragmentation, invasive species, climate change, urban sprawl over soils, soil erosion, and soil pollution such as mineral fertilisers and pesticides. ). These specific soil-related pressures are affecting organisms to an extent still difficult to be quantified. The rate of soil biodiversity loss and number of endangered species remain poorly investigated. The 2016 Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas 106 was the first attempt to map life in soil at a global scale. When threats to soil biodiversity are mapped, areas at high-risk often correspond with areas of highest soil biodiversity. 

Figure 5: map of the level of risk for soil biodiversity. The risk for soil biodiversity was generated by combining the threat associated to 13 possible stressors: climate change, land - use change, habitat fragmentation, intensive human exploitation, soil organic matter decline, industrial pollution, nuclear pollution, soil compaction, soil erosion, soil sealing, soil salinization, the use of GMOs in agriculture, and invasive species 107 .

What happens when the diversity of life within soil is lost? 

Reduction in soil biodiversity contributes to a loss of above-ground biodiversity, promotion of global warming and eutrophication of surface water. Decline in soil biodiversity causes reduced performance of essential processes, and land managers compensate this often by applying fertilisers at a significant economic and ecological cost. If soil biodiversity would be completely lost, the land-based food system would cease to function 108 . In order to assess the status of soil biodiversity and halt its potential loss, an EU monitoring scheme on belowground life is critical. The Commission is currently assessing for the first time the presence of soil micro-organisms, veterinary antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance genes in European soils through the LUCAS soil survey. The results are expected in 2022.

Knowledge gaps on soil biodiversity

These are the main knowledge gaps identified on soil biodiversity:

·Assess vulnerability of soil biota under different environmental pressures, in natural, urban and agricultural ecosystems;

·Assess the role of soil biodiversity in the nutrient, carbon and water cycle and how land management affect this role;

·Develop methods and technologies for ensuring the recovery of soil biota;

·Support the creation and publication of training and information material on soil biodiversity and advice farmers on such practices;

·Assessment of the risks of soil contamination from hazardous chemicals on soil biodiversity.

3.4.6.Preventing soil contamination

3.4.7. Remediation of soil contamination and brownfields

3.4.8.Soil and the digital agenda

3.4.9.Soil monitoring

4.How to achieve commitments 

4.1.A strategic approach

·Commit the European Commission to deliver on soil policy with both legislative and non-legislative instruments, and to mobilize societal efforts;

·Call for voluntary actions from Member States to provide essential contributions for achieving the goals.

·The LIFE HelpSoil project implemented and tested innovative soil conservation practises to make agricultural systems more resilient to climate change in the Lombardia region 124 . The practices improved soil characteristics, including SOC content and biological fertility, and led to a more efficient use of irrigation water, fertilisers and pesticides in the experimental plots.

·The pilot initiatives developed by the SOLMACC LIFE project confirmed the technical feasibility, climate mitigation and adaptation effects of climate-friendly farming practices implemented on 12 organic farms in Sweden, Germany and Italy 125 .

·Agroforestry implementation in Montpellier resulted in a 40% productivity increase while improving soil, water quality and biodiversity 126 . 

·Using mycorrhizal fungi in degraded/damaged soils enables strong underground plant networks which grant resilience and enhance carbon sequestration 127 .

·Planting bushes and tree in dry areas using the innovation proved successful by LIFE project “Cocoon” 129  

·A 20-year large-scale dryland restoration initiative to halt desertification and erosion and bring back prosperity in Southern Spain 130 , with soil regenerative techniques and organic products.

·A forest fire prevention training program in Hungary (LIFE project) succeeded in reducing 5 times the extension of fires 131

·The LIFE preparatory project NewLife4Drylands 132 started in 2021 is developing a monitoring solution from satellite to assess the effectiveness of local measures implemented to address desertification.




·The Commission Expert Group to implement the soil protection provisions of the 7th EAP 133 (in short EU Soil Expert Group), has been created in 2015 to “reflect with Member States on how soil quality issues could be addressed using a targeted and proportionate risk-based approach within a binding legal framework”. Since 2015 the group has allowed to exchange views between the Commission and EU Member States on how soil quality issues could be addressed. 

·The European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET) is a partnership network of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and its member and cooperating countries. EIONET brings together experts from national institutions and other bodies involved in environmental information; it also includes seven European Topic Centres (ETCs) dealing with specific environmental topics 134 . EIONET is the key actor to support the provision of comprehensive and harmonized information on soil from EU MS, which will allow an adequate policy monitoring tool for the implementation of the Soil Strategy, the achievement of soil objectives, as well integrating soil information into the 8th EAP overall monitoring.

·The European Soil Partnership (ESP) is a regional structure of the Global Soil Partnership 135 at FAO. ESP works in close collaboration with FAO Regional Offices and establishing an interactive consultative process with national soil entities intending to actively contribute to sustainable soil management in Europe

·The EU Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL) consists of public authorities that implement and enforce environmental legislation. IMPEL facilitates exchange of knowledge and good practices, develops guidance documents and coordinates action between Member States. ‘Water and land’ is one of the focus areas of IMPEL where the network reflects on the implementation of the Soil Thematic Strategy, the Water Framework Directive and the Nitrates Directive.

·The Mission Board has been instrumental in developing the concept for the Horizon Europe Mission A Soil Deal for Europe. The current board will be renewed in 2022 and will support the Commission in monitoring and steering the roll-out of the mission. Close cooperation between the Board of the Soil Deal mission and the Soil Expert Group is essential for exchanging information and effective coordination of planned activities under the Mission and the Soil Strategy.

4.2.3.Promoting and contributing to global action

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

Since its adoption in 1994 and entry into force in 1996, the UNCCD combats desertification and mitigates the effects of drought in countries experiencing desertification, particularly in Africa, through international cooperation and partnership arrangements. All 196 Parties have obligations in terms of the collection of information, research, capacity building and the financial support of countries affected by desertification. Thirteen EU Member States have declared themselves as affected by desertification, based on their own self-assessments: Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. These affected Parties have to develop and carry out national, sub-regional and regional action programmes in close cooperation with the local stakeholders. Several Member States are declared as affected parties. The UNCCD is active on the concrete development and the implementation of the land degradation-neutrality (LDN) principle enshrined in the SDG target 15.3. The LDN objective is to compensate losses with gains, and to achieve a position of no net loss of healthy and productive land.

Convention on Biological Diversity (Biodiversity Convention, CBD)

The Earth's biological resources are vital to our economic and social development but human activities are taking a toll on many animal and plant species. After its adoption in 1992 and entry into force in 1996, the Convention on Biological Diversity pursued the global protection of biodiversity and the sustainable use of biological resources, and also addressed soil biodiversity. The Conference of the Parties decided "to establish an International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Soil Biodiversity as a cross-cutting initiative within the programme of work on agricultural biodiversity, and invited the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and other relevant organizations, to facilitate and coordinate this initiative". This cross-cutting initiative aims to increase the recognition of the essential services provided by soil biodiversity across all production systems and its relation to land management, to share information, and to increase public awareness, education and capacity-building.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 and aims to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner. Today there are 197 parties to the Convention as it is probably the best known international environmental treaty. The Convention contains the basic framework for climate agreements like the Kyoto protocol or the Paris Agreement. In the context of UNFCCC soil carbon sequestration is recognised as an important way to mitigate and adapt to climate change. At COP 21 in 2015 in Paris, an initiative was launched by the French government to increase the global soil carbon stock with 4 ‰ annually, in order to stop the increasing CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere.

Global Soil Partnership (GSP)

The Global Soil Partnership (GSP) has been established, following intensive preparatory work of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in collaboration with the European Commission, as a voluntary partnership coordinated by the FAO in September 2011. The GSP is open to all interested stakeholders: governments (FAO Member States), universities, research organizations, civil society organizations, industry and private companies. It is a voluntary partnership aiming to provide a platform for active engagement in sustainable soil management and soil protection at all scales: local, national, regional and global. For the implementation, the GSP relies on the Regional Soil Partnerships, the European Soil Partnership being one of them. Meantime, the GSP, together with its regional partnerships and the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soil (ITPS) is well recognized for its actions and expertise on soil at global level with the adoption of a revised World Soil Charter, the publication of the Status of the World's Soil Resources report and the Voluntary Guidelines on Sustainable Soil Management. The GSP also developed a Global Soil Organic Carbon map based on national data inputs, in order to highlight the importance of the sequestration of carbon for the climate system, agriculture, human health, agriculture, etc.

UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of all ecosystems. Running from 2021 until 2030, the UN Decade launches a global movement to restore ecosystems worldwide. An area that has scope for restoration can be fully restored to its natural state, or be rehabilitated to serve a specific land use. Restoration can provide co-benefits for food security by safeguarding ecosystem services, such as soil protection, pollination, nutrient cycling and soil water-holding capacity. Restoration is essential for keeping global temperature rise below 2°C, ensuring food security for a growing population and slowing the rate of species extinctions. It helps to achieve multiple global goals, including the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework under the CBD, the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under 2030 Agenda and the Land Degradation Neutrality targets under the UNCCD. Commitments by more than 115 governments to restore a total of nearly 1 billion hectares of land, almost the size of China, now need to be delivered. 156 Almost half of the restoration commitments are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Central and South America, China and South Asia. Relatively few commitments have been made by countries in North America, Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. 157

Part II: Synopsis report of the open public consultation

1.Consultation Strategy


2.1. Introduction

2.2. Overview of the feedback received

3.Open Public Consultation


Categories of respondents:

Sectors the respondents belonged to:

EU Member States the respondents belonged to:

3.2.Summary of the replies

3.3.Analysis of the replies to the open question

3.4.Position Papers

The Commission received 183 contributions as position papers through the possibility to upload it in the questionnaire for the public consultation. Four were submitted separately by email to DG ENV.

Of these position papers, 12 were submitted by public authorities, 13 by academic/research institutes, 14 by environmental organisations, 23 by NGOs, 24 by business associations, 28 by companies and business organisations. 52 by EU-citizens and 4 by non-EU citizens, 13 by “others”. The “others” category was merged with similar sectors. Some of the provided position papers were identical.

3.4.1.Public authorities

3.4.2.NGOs and environmental organizations

3.4.3.Companies, business organisations and associations

Several position papers included further comments related to the questionnaire questions. Over 80% of companies/business organisation and business associations, which were represented by farmers, agrochemical and mining companies, do not see the need for specific soil regulation at EU level. The main arguments emphasize the subsidiarity principle and the high soil variability in Europe and also mention the numerous soil legislative acts and mechanisms already present in various Member States. Accordingly, the expectations for the new Soil Strategy are placed on encouraging research and digitalization programs, promoting sustainable soil management practices in line with the subsidiarity and proportionality principles, promoting initiatives (such as carbon farming), ensuring production sites are operating at highest standards, continuing the use of existing programs and policies (CAP, Horizon, LIFE etc.). Further key areas to be addressed should be soil pollution, improved monitoring, controlled soil footprint outside EU, intelligent spatial planning, platform for quantity and quality of soil data and information, the proper documentation of soil sealing and land consumption, contamination sites, establishment of methodologies. Although the Soil Strategy should consist of precautionary aspects, direction and support to Member States, some clear objectives should be placed on soil/land sealing/take and contamination. Ensuring consistency among EU policies is mandatory, thus overlapping objectives should be avoided. Companies or businesses representing farmers stressed that the European farmer should play a key role in the Soil Strategy as it is at the centre of climate change mitigation efforts and a soil health guardian. Thus, land payment schemes in CAP should be dynamic enough to allow farmers to cooperate and conduct soil health experiments under supervision. Agrochemical companies asked for farmers to be trained and better informed on the beneficial potential of bio-based fertilisers, organic amendments, biostimulants. One position paper requested for a holistic view on agriculture and asked for breakdown of intensive farming. An impact assessment of specific actions is considered necessary for any binding targets or commitment and possible goals or indicators must be technically comprehensible and realistic. Interlinking of the different EU environmental policies and their further updating with a focus on Green Deal deliverables is considered a good alternative to a Soil Directive. Further suggestions include prioritizing biodiversity, focusing on soil multifunctionality, encourage precision farming, reconciling ecological and socio-economical expectations. A mining company suggested a shift form “no net land take” to “sustainable land use”. Less than 20% of position paper in this category, belonging mainly to the farming, water and waste, and agri-environmental consultancy sectors, support or ask for a regulatory EU framework on soils in order to harmonize national legislations, fill in existing policy gaps and prevent further contamination and deterioration of soil quality, functions and biodiversity. The potential EU soil regulation, which must contain clear goals and guidelines (including for soil excavation), should be first and foremost be flexible and consistent with other policies. In this context, a revision on CAP eco-schemes and measures is warranted, and organic/regenerative farming practices, which reverse soil degradation and increase soil organic carbon sequestration, should be encouraged and incentivized. Last but not least, healthy soils to play a vital role for the circular economy.

3.4.4.Academic and research institutions

3.4.5.EU citizens

3.4.6.Non-EU citizens

Four non-EU citizens added position papers to their submission, all demanding a transition to agroecology and a dedicated legal framework for EU soils to efficiently address soil degradation and practices that negatively impact soil and replace them with sustainable alternatives.

4.Other consultations of Member States and stakeholders

4.1.Consultations of Member States through the EU Expert Group on Soil Protection

4.2. Dedicated workshops and conferences

(1)   A European Green Deal | European Commission (
(2) Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the protection of soil and amending Directive 2004/35/EC, COM/2006/0232 final - COD 2006/0086
(3) SEC(2006)620, Commission Staff Working Document, Impact Assessment of the Thematic Strategy on Soil Protection
(4) Resolution of the European Parliament on the Commission communication Towards a Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection (COM(2002) 179 - C5-0328/2002 - 2002/2172(COS)) adopted on 19 November 2003
(5)  Council conclusions on integrated soil protection adopted on 25 July 2002 
(6)  Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the protection of soil and amending Directive 2004/35/EC, COM/2006/0232 final - COD 2006/0086
(7) Position of the European Parliament adopted at first reading on 14 November 2007 with a view to the adoption of Directive 2008/.../EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the protection of soil 
(8)   Procedure File: 2006/0086(COD) | Legislative Observatory | European Parliament (
(9) Withdrawal of obsolete Commission proposals (2014/C 153/03) OJ C 153, 21.5.2014, and Corrigendum OJ C 163, 28.5.2014
(10) Decision 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 “Living well, within the limits of our planet”
(11)   Contamination industrial point source - Inventory and Assessment of Soil Protection Policy Instruments in EU Member States - EC Extranet Wiki (
(12) Decision 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 “Living well, within the limits of our planet”
(13)  European Environment Agency (2019), The European Environment: State and Outlook 2020  
(14)  European Environment Agency (2019), The European Environment: State and Outlook 2020  
(15)   SWD(2021)141 towards a monitoring and outlook framework for the zero pollution ambition
(16) Environment action programme to 2030 (
(17)  EEA (2022). Soil monitoring in Europe: Indicators and thresholds for soil quality assessments.
(18)   Wiki: Inventory and Assessment of Soil Protection Policy Instruments in EU Member States (having or creating an EU login account is needed to access it) 
(19)  Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions most relevant for soil health are:
(20)  Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control)
(21)  Directive 2008/1/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 January 2008 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control
(22)  Directive 2004/35/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage
(23)   SoiLEX | FAO Soils portal
(24) European Commission (2020), Proposed Mission “Caring for soil is caring for life - Ensure 75% of soils are healthy by 2030 for food, people, nature and climate”, Independent Expert Report ; see in particular Annex I  
(25)  EEA and ETC/ULS (2021). Soil monitoring in Europe: Indicators and thresholds for soil quality assessments.  
(26)  Panagos, P. et al. (2018), Cost of agricultural productivity loss due to soil erosion in the European Union: From direct cost evaluation approaches to the use of macroeconomic models  
(27)   Soil matters for our future | European Commission (  

 Tanneberger, F. et al. (2017), The peatland map of Europe ; European Commission (2008), Review of Existing Information on the Interrelations between Soil and Climate Change (CLIMSOIL final report) .

(29) European Commission (2015), Soil threats in Europe: status, methods, drivers and effects on ecosystem services  
(30) LIFE Focus (2007), LIFE and Europe’s wetlands  
(31) Joint Research Centre (2018), Status of local soil contamination in Europe  
(32) Landrigan, P.J.. et al. (2018), The Lancet Commission on pollution and health  
(33)   Land take and net land take — European Environment Agency (  
(34)  European Environment Agency (2019), The European Environment: State and Outlook 2020
(35)  European Environment Agency (2019), The European Environment: State and Outlook 2020  
(36) European Commission (2010), The factory of life: why soil biodiversity is so important  
(37)  FAO and ITPS (2015). Status of the World’s Soil Resources  
(38) Tzemi, D. et al. (2020), Economic impacts of salinity induced soil degradation  
(39) Desertification means land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities” (see UNCCD definition under article 1 of the Convention; ). It includes processes such as strong wind and water erosion, lack of water during the growing season, soil crusting and subsoil compaction, as well as salinization.
(40)   Prăvălie et al. (2017), Quantification of land degradation sensitivity areas in Southern and Central Southeastern Europe.
(41)  European Court of Auditors (2018), Special report n°33/2018: Combating desertification in the EU: a growing threat in need of more action  
(45)  Rowe, L. (2003): Land Use and Water Resources: A Comparison of Streamflow from New Zealand Catchments with Different Vegetation Covers. SMF2167: Report No. 6. Landcare Research for Ministry for the Environment, p.139.
(48)  Collentine, D. and Futter, M. (2018), Realising the potential of natural water retention measures in catchment flood management: trade-offs and matching interests. J Flood Risk Management, 11: 76-84.  
(53)  Panagos, P. et al. (2018), Cost of agricultural productivity loss due to soil erosion in the European Union: From direct cost evaluation approaches to the use of macroeconomic models  
(54) The Economics of Land Degradation (2015), The value of land   
(55) Nkonya, E., et al. (2016). Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement - A Global Assessment for Sustainable Development  
(56)  IPBES (2018), The IPBES assessment report on land degradation and restoration  
(57)  European Commission (2021), Accounting for ecosystems and their services in the EU  (INCA)
(58) European Environment Agency (2019), Soil, land and climate change  
(59) Greifswald Mire Centre (2019), Briefing Paper on the role of peatlands in the new European Union’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP)  
(60)  Data compiled by Greifswald Mire Centre based on National Inventory Reports 2019. (Sectors Agriculture, LULUCF - Cropland and Grassland)
(61)  IUCN (2019), Legal provisions on soil import. Technical note prepared by IUCN for the European Commission.  
(62) Paleari, S. et al. (2012), Transboundary shipments of waste in the European Union. Reflections on data, environmental impacts and drivers.
(63)  Borrelli, P. et al. (2018),  A step towards a holistic assessment of soil degradation in Europe: Coupling on-site erosion with sediment transfer and carbon fluxes .  
(64) MUDNET (2018), Sediment management in the port of Rotterdam  
(65) Gallina, V. et al. (2019), Assessment of Climate Change Impacts in the North Adriatic Coastal Area. Part II: Consequences for Coastal Erosion Impacts at the Regional Scale  
(66) IPBES (2018), The IPBES assessment report on land degradation and restoration  
(67) IPBES (2018), Summary for policymakers of the thematic assessment of land degradation and restoration  
(68)  European Court of Auditors (2018),  Special report n°33/2018: Combating desertification in the EU: a growing threat in need of more action
(69) EEA and ETC/ULS (2019). Land degradation knowledge base: policy, concepts and data. ETC/ULS Report 01/2019.
(70)  European Parliament resolution of 28 April 2021 on soil protection (2021/2548(RSP))
(71) European Parliament resolution of 9 June 2021 on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: Bringing nature back into our lives (2020/2273(INI))
(72) Council conclusions on Biodiversity - the need for urgent action, 23 October 2020.  
(73)   Debate on Soil Protection on Monday 26 April 2021
(74) Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions – Agro-ecology; 05/02/2021; Rapporteur CDR 3137/2020; Rapporteur: CROS Guillaume
(75) EASAC report on Soil Sustainability (2018)  
(76) Tanneberger, F et al. (2017), The peatland map of Europe. Mires and Peat No 19 (22), 1-17.   For the detailed definition, see definition of histosols within the FAO (2015) World Reference Base for soil resources: International soil classification system for naming soils and creating legends for soil maps .
(77) Calculated from data derived from the national submissions to the UNFCCC.
(78) Schils, R. et al. (2008), Review of existing information on the interrelations between soil and climate change. ClimSoil final report. European Communities Technical Report
(79)  Based on the best available evidence, an estimated 45,000 – 55,000 km2 has been drained for agricultural use – see also Tanneberger, F. et al. (2021), The Power of Nature‐Based Solutions: How Peatlands Can Help Us to Achieve Key EU Sustainability Objectives.
(80) Pérez Domínguez I., et al. (2020), Economic assessment of GHG mitigation policy options for EU agriculture: A closer look at mitigation options and regional mitigation costs (EcAMPA 3),
(81)  Tanneberger, F. et al. (2021), The Power of Nature‐Based Solutions: How Peatlands Can Help Us to Achieve Key EU Sustainability Objectives.
(82) European Commission (2021), Technical guidance handbook: Setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming mechanisms in the EU
(83) Ronchi S. et al. (2019), Policy instruments for soil protection among the EU member states: A comparative analysis 
(84) Lugato et al. (2014), Potential carbon sequestration of European arable soils estimated by modelling a comprehensive set of management practices.
(86) Proposal for a revision of the LULUCF Regulation, COM(2021) 554,  
(87) See "4 per 1000" Initiative website:
(89)  European Commission (2021), Setting up and implementing result-based carbon farming mechanisms in the EU - Technical guidance handbook  
(90)  European Commission (2021), Commission sets the carbon farming initiative in motion  
(91)  Breure, A.M. et al. (2018). Soil and land management in a circular economy  
(92) Gattinger, A. et al. (2012), Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farming .  
(93)  Krauss, M., et al. (2020), Enhanced soil quality with reduced tillage and solid manures in organic farming – a synthesis of 15 years.  
(94) Communication from the Commission on an action plan for the development of organic production COM(2021) 141
(95) EASAC report on Soil Sustainability (2018)  
(96) Dasgupta, P., The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – Full Report  
(97) Joint Research Centre, webpage “Soil Biodiversity”  
(98)  FAO (2020), State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity  
(99)  FAO (2020), State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity  
(100)  Orgiazzi, A. et al. (2018), LUCAS Soil, the largest expandable soil dataset for Europe: a review  
(101)  FAO (2020), State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity  
(102)  FAO (2020), State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity  
(103)  FAO (2020), State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity ,  page 125
(104) P., The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – Full Report  
(105) Thanner, S. et al. (2016),  Antimicrobial resistance in agriculture.  
(106)  Joint Research Centre (2016), Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas  
(107)   Potential threats to soil biodiversity | EU Science Hub (  
(108) Dasgupta, P. (2021), The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – Full Report  
(109) Cassini et al. (2018), Attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life-years caused by infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the EU and the European Economic Area in 2015
(110) OECD (2019), Antimicrobial resistance: tackling the burden in the EU
(111) Ernst & Young (2013). Evaluation of expenditure and jobs for addressing soil contamination in Member States.  
(112) JRC (2018). Status of local soil contamination in Europe. ; EEA Land and Soil Indicator Set LSI 003 ‘progress in the management of contaminated sites.  
(113)   JRC Publications Repository - Status of local soil contamination in Europe: Revision of the indicator “Progress in the management contaminated sites in Europe” (  
(116) EU Soil Observatory (EUSO) | EU Science Hub (  
(117) Directive 2007/2/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2007 establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE)
(118) Directive (EU) 2016/2284 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 December 2016 on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants.
(119) Proposal for a revision of the LULUCF Regulation, COM(2021) 554,
(120) Keesstra, S.D. et al. (2020), Providing support in relation to the implementation of soil and land related Sustainable Development Goals at EU level .  
(121) UNCCD, WOCAT SLM database .  
(122) European Commission Staff Working Document for information purposes on Guidelines on best practice to limit, mitigate or compensate soil sealing SWD(2012) 101  
(124)  Perego A. et al. (2018), Agro ,  
(125)   SOLMACC LIFE project website.  
(126) Climate-ADAPT Case study “Agroforestry: agriculture of the future? The case of Montpellier”
(127) Zhi-Gang Wang et al. (2016), Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi enhance soil carbon sequestration in the coalfields, northwest China .  
(128) Co-funded by the EU; see  
(129)  ‘Cocoon’ tree growing counters desertification in the Mediterranean  
(130) COMMONLAND website.  
(131) Project FIRELIFE website.
(132)   NewLife4Drylands project website  
(133) European Commission webpage: “Register of Commission Expert Groups and Other Similar Entities” .  
(134)  EIONET Portal website.  
(135) FAO, Global Soil Partnership website,  
(137) Example: The project “Impulse4Action”, developed in the framework of the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) and co-financed by ARPAF (Alpine Region Preparatory Action Fund):
(139)  ELSA website.  
(140) ESSC website.  
(141) ELO, Land and Soil Management Award website.  
(142) Soil Heroes Foundation website.  
(143) Rabobank (2019), Soil health for stronger farms? We can measure that.  
(144) Soilmates website.  
(145) Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity website.  
(146) Gruppo Suolo Europa website.  
(147) Solar Impulse website. : among the 1000+ solutions to protect the environment selected to be at the same time efficient and profitable, 4 concern soil health: microbial soil fertilisation, a steam technology as alternative to pesticides, a bio-solution for contaminated sites, mobile on-site soil and wastewater treatment machine; another one concerns reducing landfilling of excavated soils by reusing them.
(148)  WWF, Living Planet Report website.  
(149)  The Environmental Pillar website.  
(150) SoilCare website.  
(151)  Friends of the Earth (2021), Soil Health & Pesticides Study.  
(152) United Nations, Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development .  
(153) Lal, R. et al. (2021), Soils and sustainable development goals of the United Nations: An International Union of Soil Sciences perspective .  
(154)  Keesstra, S.D. et al. (2020), Implementation of soil and land related Sustainable Development Goals at EU level .
(155) Lal, R. et al. (2021), Soils and sustainable development goals of the United Nations: An International Union of Soil Sciences perspective .  
(156)  United Nations Environment Programme (2021), Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem restoration for people, nature and climate.
(157) Sewell, A. et al. (2020), Goals and Commitments for the Restoration Decade: A global overview of countries’ restoration commitments under the Rio Conventions and other pledges.
(158)  Communication from the Commission “EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 - Bringing nature back into our lives” COM(2020)380 final
(159)  Healthy soils – new EU soil strategy  
(160)  Mission ’A Soil Deal for Europe’  
(161)  Healthy soils – new EU soil strategy  
(162)  Commission consults on new EU Soil Strategy  
(163) DECISION 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 Living well, within the limits of our planet
(164)   SOER 2015 — The European environment — state and outlook 2015 (
(165)   Register of Commission expert groups and other similar entities (  
(166)   Soil inventory report
(167)  "Land as a resource" Conference, 19 June 2014
(168) Soil Stakeholders Conference, 5 December 2016  
(169)   Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services - MAES (  
(170)   Brownfield redevelopment in the EU | European Commission
(171)   Soil and the SDGs: challenges and need for action” Conference, 25 November 2019
(172)   EU Green Week 2020 - Session 5 .3 It’s Alive! Why Soil Is The Most Important Habitat - YouTube video
(173)   Dirty footprints on the magic carpet – the impacts of soil pollution on human health | EU Green Week 2021