European policy on soil "urgently required"

Soil degradation taking place at an "unprecedented rate" say European, UN, environment agencies

A Europe-wide soil monitoring and assessment system should be set up as the first step towards framework legislation to protect soil, according to a report published jointly by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP). A future EU law should be similar to existing framework directives designed to protect water and air quality, they say.

Launching the report yesterday in Bonn, where parties to the UN desertification convention are meeting, EEA director Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán said that soil degradation "may become the main challenge for sustainability and would require a common approach" by the EU in conjunction with other European states.

It concludes that more than 150m hectares of European soils are at high risk from erosion and that up to one-third of soils may be significantly degraded. The most serious problems, it suggests, are: building work that seals soil from productive use, erosion, slope stability, contamination, acidification, desertification in central and eastern Europe, and large data gaps which hamper decision-making.

The report coincides with a decision by convention parties - to be formally approved tomorrow - to include central and eastern European countries in remediation programmes under the treaty. This will significantly increase the number of European countries set to draw up national action plans to combat desertification, as required under the convention. EU member states Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy have already launched this process.

Follow Up:
European Environment Agency, tel: +45 33 36 71 00, EEA & UNEP report; UN desertification convention, tel: +49 228 815 2802; Earth Negotiations Bulletin's daily coverage of desertification convention meeting

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