ECA is the acronym of European Court of Auditors which is the institution that acts as the independent guardian of the financial interests of the citizens of the European Union (EU). Its mission is to contribute to improving EU financial management, promote accountability and transparency. The starting point for its audit work is the EU’s budget and policies, primarily in areas relating to growth and jobs, added value, public finances, the environment and climate action. The ECA audits the budget in terms of both revenue and spending. The aim is improving public accountability in the EU and providing reports for EU policymakers and citizens.
One of these reports is of great interest because it deals directly with the soil. The title is ‘Combating desertification in the EU: a growing threat in need of more action‘.
In the popular imagination, the term desertification mainly evokes the deserts that exist mainly in the tropics. On the contrary, it is a reality that affects every area of the world where there is soil degradation, especially in the arid zones. This is a fast-growing phenomenon throughout the EU, especially since we began to experience rapid climate change. Desertification means lower agricultural production, less food, less land to cultivate. Italy is one of the most affected countries, along with Spain, Portugal and Greece. As well as leading to the reduction and loss of agricultural production, desertification makes the soil particularly fragile. A heavy downpour is enough to cause “microexplosions” that destroy the very structure of the soil; in the worst cases we see landslides, landslips, and mudslides.
The EU has been concerned about desertification for some time. The Commission has funded research in several Mediterranean countries, but so far there is no ability to halt or reverse the tendency towards degradation. The EU member states are largely responsible because of their failure to act in areas at risk. This is the thrust of the ECA’s report (which is available in all EU languages) which merits reading in its entirety. There follows the document’s final synthesis which is very clear and needs no further comment.
“We found that the risk of desertification in the EU was not being effectively and efficiently addressed. While desertification and land degradation are growing threats, the steps taken to combat desertification lack coherence. There is no shared vision in the EU about how land degradation neutrality will be achieved by 2030. We recommend the Commission aims at a better understanding of land degradation and desertification in the EU; assesses the need to enhance the EU legal framework for soil; and steps up actions towards delivering the commitment made by the EU and the Member States to achieve land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030.”