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  • Anna Morath

How the EU will implement its vision on soil health

Published in November 2021, the EU Soil Strategy provides a clear vision for soil protection and restoration. Now the EU is embarking on a new journey: implementing it.

The new EU Soil Strategy for 2030 is a key deliverable of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and offers an overarching policy framework and concrete measures for protecting, restoring and sustainably using soils. The Strategy includes both medium (2030) and long-term (2050) objectives such as combating desertification and supporting the EU climate goals while reducing nutrient losses and the use of chemical pesticides, all with the final goal to achieve a reduction in soil pollution to levels no longer considered harmful.

The EU Soil Strategy is closely linked to other major strategies and initiatives that form part of the European Green Deal – such as the Zero Pollution Action Plan, Circular Economy Action Plan, Chemicals Strategy, the “Fit for 55” Package and the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. However, its flagship initiative is the Soil Health Law. While details of the proposal are expected in mid-2023, the goal of the Law (an EU Directive) is clear: set up a legal framework to protect soils, as are already in place for water (Water Framework Directive) and air (Air Quality Framework Directive). The new Law will address transboundary impacts of soil degradation, secure equal market conditions, promote policy coherence at the EU and national levels, and allow the EU to achieve its goals on climate change, biodiversity, food security and water protection.

The wheels are already in motion with the Commission set to kick off its impact assessment that will look at possible provisions to monitor soil health, legal requirements for the sustainable use of soil, as well as prepare a set of sustainable soil management practices, and legally binding provisions to identify contaminated sites.

Key impact areas under the Soil Law

Agriculture: Soil provides an essential resource and key production factor for the agricultural sector. The new framework will help incentivise farmers and Member States to take on sustainable agricultural and land-management practices through initiatives such as EU Coalition4HealthySoils (C4HS) and TEST YOUR SOIL FOR FREE. The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will also play a key role in protecting soils through new enhanced conditionality for environmental protection. In addition, the revised rules for the sustainable use of pesticides will contribute to reducing the pressure on soils.

Biodiversity and Climate: Biodiversity protection and climate mitigation are not the only positive externalities that emerge from sustainable soil practices: sustainable soil management can also become a new stream of income for land managers. The new Carbon Farming Initiative with the upcoming framework for the certification of carbon removals will set up a new business model for farmers, which would benefit from taking on agricultural practices that capture carbon while also regenerating soil health and biodiversity.

Plastics and Chemicals: With the EU already working on restricting microplastics and other chemicals such as PFASs, further actions on the chemical pollution of soils (and subsequently waters) can be expected. A key initiative for the protection of soils will be the new policy framework on bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics, which aims to avoid leakages of such materials into soils.

Next steps

The Soil Health Law is expected in mid-2023, but stakeholders will have the opportunity to contribute to its development in a public consultation, to be published in the coming months. If backed by the European Parliament and Member States, the Soil Health Law will become the first EU-wide law protecting soil, more than ten years after the first attempt.

Soil health is back on top of the policy agenda and, due to its importance for many key sectors and EU ongoing initiatives – from agrifood and plastics, to climate mitigation and chemical legislation – it is likely to stay. Our team is ready to help companies navigate the legislative procedures, assess potential impacts, and make your voice heard by EU decision-makers.