Newsletter n.37

16/7/201

1. EXPERIENCES: Soil supports life and is full of life

2. NEWS FROM THE SIP FORUM: Meeting at the EESC and presentation of the SIP Forum

3.NEWS ON SOIL AND EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONS: A time for conferences

4. WE ARE NOT ALONE!

Soil supports life and is full of life

The article on biodiversity (Newsletter 33) drew a great deal of attention. Since then we have been sent important information, and have been asked to return to the subject. We are more than happy to do so, and would like to start by citing a motto used by soil scientists when talking about the presence of biodiversity in soil: ‘Soil supports life, and is full of life!’.

We recommend to read the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas to those who wish to acquire complete knowledge about soil biodiversity. This text, published by the Joint Research Centre of the Commission is fully detailed both on a scientific and on an educational level. Together with a large number of pictures, the text allows understanding of the complexity of micro and macro entities in soil.

To researchers and specialists we recommend the Second Global Soil Biodiversity Conference, which will take place in Nanjing (China) from 15 to 19 October 2017. We mention this as the theme of the conference is of high importance: integrating soil biodiversity with global sustainability. We will make sure to keep you up-to-date with the upcoming findings of the conference.

 For those of you looking for educational material on soil biodiversity for schools, we would recommend adapting that provided by Colorado State University, which can be found here: http://blog.globalsoilbiodiversity.org/. This may require some patience, however specific songs and soundtracks related to soil can be found by browsing through the monthly newsletters, as well as drawings, images and photographs. As a matter of fact, most of the material available is the work of European researchers and initiatives.

Meeting at the EESC and presentation of the SIP Forum

The meeting with the Consumers and Environment Category of Group III of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) took place on June 21.

The PowerPoint presentation (in English) presented the following topics: a brief presentation of the SIP Forum, its activities in Italy and at European level; soil as a fundamental life element; soil and the European dimension; soil= “brown gold”; the need to take individual action; the specific role of the EESC (supporting a study on different ‘soil’ actors’ perceptions, which would create a neutral platform for direct confrontation); and finally, recommendations from the various actors present, in order to evaluate a new strategy for soil protection in the EU.

There were two main recommendations: reinforcing communication and contact all over Europe with civil society associations and organisations who do not have soil as a priority; secondly, establishing dialogue with interested actors (ie. constructors, farmers, planners, administrators…)

Comments from members of the Category and the debate which followed drew special attention to: the complexity of soil-related action; the need for educational-related action for various school levels; the rise of the population at global and European level; the turn to ‘soil fertility-friendly’ agricultural activities; how to confront the contradictions of the Common Agricultural Policy; awareness of soil’s eco-systemic functions; importance of soil and its positive contribution to reducing climate change related problems; safeguard of soil in the context of rights related to climate change; how to select land to build establishments without clashing with agricultural or rural activities; special attention to pollution coming from pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

The members of the Category saw this meeting as a first explanatory moment. Availability to closely follow the initiatives proposed by the SIP Forum were made plenty.

A copy of the presentation is available here in pdf format: https://angelidelsuolo.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/soil-brown-gold-eesc_cese_21-june_simplified.pdf or upon request to suolo.europa@gmail.com.

Stop Glyphosate! ECI

With the Stop Glyphosate! European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the Commission is asked to introduce a ban on the use of glyphosates in Member States, to reform the procedure on pesticide approval, and set goals on compulsory use of pesticide reduction at EU level.

In the case of Italy, we would like to remind you that the Ministry of Health’s ban on the use of phytosanitary containing glyphosate is not enough (Gazzetta Ufficiale Italiana, August 2016). If the ban is not put in place at European level, products containing glyphosate may still be exported from other Member States.

An IARC report (International Agency for Research on Cancer) of the World Health Organisation defined glyphosate as potentially carcinogenic for human beings. Test results from urine samples carried out – at the Bremen University Medical Centre (Germany) – over 18 Member States confirm that at least 44% of those tested carry traces of glyphosate. Proportions naturally vary from country to country with Malta, Germany, Great Britain and Poland high up in the ranking, with Macedonia and Switzerland among the last,

We would like to remind those who believe the danger is still not scientifically confirmed, that as the precautionary principle regulates – or simply common sense – we are not asking them to cease consuming products containing glyphosate (they are free to keep doing as they wish), but simply not to absurdly force others to do so. Moreover we insist that the danger of pesticides should be evaluated and verified in a transparent manner and not in labs of manufacturing industries or in those financed by these industries.

In February the SIP Forum Newsletter had alerted readers and SIP Forum members on the crucial importance of definitely banning glyphosate, and launching the ECI. The campaign is still ongoing, and over 700.000 signatures collected from January until now, over all Member States.

Unfortunately, the pace is weaker in Italy, and there is the risk not to reach the minimum number of signatures required according to ECI rules.

We would therefore like to ask our readers who have not yet accessed the website, to sign the petition: https://stopglyphosate.org/  .

If you have not already done so please spread this petition to your partners, friends and acquaintances… It is extremely important!

Soil Day on 4 July 2017 in Milan

In Milan on 4 July, Italian Soil Day celebrations took place. It was a meeting at the Polytechnic Institute of Milano in the Rogers Hall (Via Ampere 2, nearest metro stop: Piola), during which the following reports were presented: 1) the National Report on Soil Consumption by ISPRA (the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research); 2) the CRCS 2017 Report by Soil Consumption Research Centre; and 3) the Report on Soil Consumption in Puglia (Polytechnic Institute of Bari).

High-qualified experts for soil and research policy and important national authorities were present. The most recent analysis and current state of play on soil consumption in Italy was illustrated and compared to the situation at European level.

People4soil was present, to keep gathering signatures and to present the first few figures in relation to the campaign in Italy as well as the rest of Europe.

A time for conferences

a) European Commission – Green Week 2017 and EU Development Days 2017-06-30

The “differently young people” (alias over 60 years old!) will remember how back in the day, in Italy, on urban public transport there used to be signs saying ‘Please do not speak to the driver’.

Those who took part in Green Week 2017 organized by DG ENVI of the EU Commission – from 29 May to 2 June – will confirm that nobody was allowed to “speak to the driver” there either, or better “speak to the representatives from the Commission”. The driver keeps on “driving” whilst passengers must sit on the back and talk amongst themselves, even though they may have interesting news or experiences to share with all and in particular with the “drivers”.

The very platform for Green Week broke apart over the past two years. A place of encounters and discussions, where over 2000 participants were the most important ‘entity’ of the “green” week, has now turned into a meeting with generic, recycled and fruitless statements being uttered and merely listened to. There used to be debates with thousands of people exchanging ideas, proposals and experiences. All spaces of the location, including corridors cafés and refectories, were a whirlwind of discussions and exchanges. Even the various representatives – the Commissioners, and civil servants – were urged to listen to concrete experiences, and “self-celebration” was very rare. Those attending would at the end of the day feel enriched with the ideas and contacts made.

Now all is dispersed all over Europe, and this means the “drivers” are always present – without any real confrontation, but simply issuing the same statements as ten years back, and that will have the same validity in ten years time – to show that European environmental policy and research are responding to the demands of investments and economic productivity.

But should it not be the opposite? Shouldn’t investments and the creation of jobs necessarily have to be compatible with environmental policy choices?

Unfortunately the result of Green Week 2017 was losing credibility on European environmental protection, even though the EU was set as an example worldwide for its environmental policy! As we await for different “drivers” and for the Commission to respond to the all-the-more urgent expectations coming from European and overseas people, it took that alien of a newly elected president of the United States for us to realize how the EU is at the forefront in all aspects of environmental protection. It is thanks to him and his refusal that on 11 and 12 June the Ministries of the Environment of the G7 met in Bologna to renew environmental protection efforts and climate-change combat, confirmed/signed by the other six participants and the European Commissioner for climate change.

The abovementioned is a “cry of pain”, but not of powerlessness. Whenever the Commission is willing, it is able to decently organize events based on real and constructive participation. An example of this is the EDD17 – European Development Days 2017 (7 and 8 June) – entitled Investing in Development: two full days with around 8000 (eight thousand!) participants, over 120 debates and conferences, with a Global Village placed in the middle of the venue. Soil also received a great deal of attention with stands and conferences of the Joint Research Centre, the CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development), and the 4 per 1000 initiative.

b) The Global Soil Week 2017 and CONSOWA

Global Soil Week (GSW 2017) was held in Berlin from 22 to 24 May 2017. After the ones held in 2012, 2013 and 2015 this was the fourth meeting on soil organised by IASS-Potsdam (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies) jointly with the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development).  This year the event focused on ‘Catalysing SDG[1] Implementation Through a Soil and Land Review’. Around 300 participants attended three thematic workshops to explore the following topics: ‘Sustaining and upscaling achievements of sustainable land management (SLM) initiatives’; ‘Right to (defend) land: strengthening accountability at the local level through thematic reviews’; and ‘Protecting land resources for shared prosperity.’

There are five key messages to work on, and present to the highest political authorities:

1) Increase investments in sustainable land management and responsible governance. It will be critical to design investments and monitor them in line with international human rights-based instruments, such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and internationally accepted environmental and social safeguards;

2) Make the entire production chain sustainable and change consumption patterns which have an impact on land degradation both locally and in other parts of the world. High-consuming segments of society have a particular responsibility in this regard;

3) Enhance spatial planning and adopt territorial approaches to address the rural-urban continuum in an integrated way that contributes to food security and the sustainable and the integrated management of natural resources, such as the land-water nexus; as well as to improving regional value chains to offer better opportunities for the youth.

4) Improve land rights and land tenure, especially for vulnerable and marginalised groups, and acknowledge that vulnerable populations are rights holders, whose rights need to be upheld. This implies adopting specific measures to protect civil society, since human rights are under pressure from the shrinking space for civil society; and

5) Build a bridge between SDG 2 (Zero hunger) and SDG 15 (Life on land) to ensure food security through avoiding, reducing and reversing soil and land degradation to achieve SDG target 15.3 on land degradation neutrality, and sustainably managing landscapes for people. Entry points for this are community empowerment, and high-quality and accountable extension services that embrace the youth and open data access.

If GSW is able to act as a link between the academic world, civil society and the political world, the conference in Lleida, Spain (12-16 June) allowed for scientific comparisons between water and soil conservation specialists. We cite it because it is the first world conference, which gathered researchers and technicians for both soil and water, entities currently at risk due to climate change difficulties. The main aim of this conference, the acronym for which is CONSOWA (1st World Conference On Soil And Water Conservation Under Global Change), is to create sustainability on earth via soil and water conservation.

[1] SDG: Sustainable Development Goals

Goldman Prize to Uros Macerl (Slovenia)

In past newsletters we have mentioned the Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded by the Goldman Foundation (US). Every year the prize is awarded to environmentalists, one for each of the six geographical regions of the world. It is also called the Green Noble Prize.

This year the European winner was Slovenian Uros Macerl. After years of legal battles, thanks to his good will this farmer managed to close down the cement factory managed by French company Lafarge. Industrial waste constituted a ‘potential threat for citizen’s health’. Highly loved by environmentalists, loathed by his opponents, this 48 year old farmer has been devoting his work to organic farming and agriculture. His battle began over 15 years ago, but his battle and victory will not have been possible without the support of the environmental protection group Eco-Krog.

First of all it became clear that the entire valley was choking on pollution, due to a cement plant, a glass factory and a carbon power plant. These enterprises were providing hundreds of jobs, however the air was becoming less and less breathable, fumes were constantly covering the valley and snow was often black due to combustion dusts.

In 2002, Lafarge purchased the century old cement plant, and in a year the level of benzene (a carcinogenic substance) increased by 250%. In 2012 high rates of human cancer incidence, and spontaneous miscarriages among farm animals were found. The pollution data allowed Uros to prove this unsustainability. The cement industry did not respond, and resumed its activities without worrying about its effects on the population and the environment. In 2009, the farmer had already taken legal action against the cement factory a small area of his land had been included in the perimeter reserved for plastic and rubber incineration by the factory.

After years of hearings, in 2015 the European Commission took Slovenia to the European Court of Justice, saying the factory was (quoting) ‘potentially dangerous for citizens and their health’. In March 2015, the Slovenian government therefore ordered the cement plant to cease its cement production.

Uros’ opponents recognised an improvement in the environment and the return of birds and animals considered disappeared, raised concerns regarding the loss of jobs and the economic downfall of the area.

But jobs must not be an alternative to good health. Blackmail related to creating infrastructure for local communities (recreational centres, sport teams, medical structures …) to compensate for damage due to a polluting industry should not be allowed.

Finally, Uros Macerl’s experience shows that large industries and financial capitals can be forced to comply with laws, or … to close down.

4 per 1000 Initiative: New French Minister for Agriculture

With Emmanuel Macron’s election, recent political events in France have led to many changes in ministries. The new minister for agriculture as of 21 June 2017 is Stéphane Travert, replacement for Jacques Mézard whom had been nominated just a few weeks before to replace Stéphane Le Foll. The latter had acquired international visibility with the 4per1000 initiative itself. The International Union of Soil Science (IUSS) had even shown recognition of his merits by awarding a medal. Thanks to his personal commitment, we must add that the notion of carbon accumulation in soil as an element guaranteeing food security and an answer to climate-related challenges has once again been set on the international agenda.

It is still too early to tell what direction the new French minister will take. In theory, the new political climate should not affect the 4 per 1000 Initiative too much, as it is already structured and consolidated. Perhaps at the next meeting in Bonn we will be able to understand if the current Minister will keep on with the initiative in an equally passionate manner. His physical presence would confirm that the French government is still marching along the same indicated path.