Authors: Catherine Bowyer, Clunie Keenleyside
If caring for the planet starts from the ground, as the FAO states today (World Soils Day, 2017), then caring for the planet starts with farmers, foresters and all others who manage and use the EU’s soils. It follows that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as a major driver of the decisions made by Europe’s 12 million farmers, is critical to securing responsible, long term management of our soils and related ecosystem services.
For soils there is no static state or fixed end point, their quality and health requires ongoing, long term, coordinated management to protect, improve and retain remaining assets and improve those soils that have been degraded. The goal must be to maximise opportunities and the resilience (economic and environmental) of land for farmers and society now and into the future.
The ability of soil to deliver ecosystem services – such as food production and as a regulator of greenhouse gasses, water and nutrients – is under increasing pressure. Observed rates of soil sealing, erosion, contamination and decline in organic matter all reduce soil functionality. Increasingly analysis is looking at how the EU can manage its soil resource better in the short, medium and long term. This includes understanding what land managers can do to improve soil protection and their resource efficiency and how current and future CAP instruments can help support this. It also involves understanding better the drivers of soil management and resource management decisions and the wider policy infrastructure required to understand, monitor, improve and protect Europe’s soils.
Analysis by IEEP for the European Commission identified that the lack of a strategic policy framework both at EU level, and in many Member States, means that the soil challenges, priorities and solutions are often not set out clearly. This hinders the effective integration of soil considerations into sectoral and environmental policies. It also significantly impinges on the EU’s ability to form a clear implementation strategy for international priorities including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate mitigation targets. Clarity and direction in structuring regional and local action, for example under the CAP, is also compromised.
The CAP does provide the means to influence the positive management of the EU’s soils. For example, it provides some protection to soils through cross-compliance requirements and support for active soil management via Pillar 1 greening measures and Rural Development Programmes. However, in the absence of coordinating principles around soil needs, prioritisation of soil actions varies considerably across Member States. Given the importance of the CAP for the protection of Europe’s rural soil’s IEEP has launched a new briefing explaining how the CAP addresses soil threats and functions, the instruments and choices available to Member States.
Work at IEEP reviewing the opportunities under the CAP for soil protection, the role of rural development programmes and wider national policies. This is being completed as part of the iSQAPER research project. For more information about the importance of soils click here for a short video from the iSQAPER team.
For more information on IEEP’s work on soils, contact Catherine Bowyer.
 EEA – State of the Environment Report – 2015 – https://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/europe/soil