In one of our previous Newsletters we described the ‘Missions’ into which the EU’s Horizon Europa research project is divided. We focused in particular on the experts involved in the Soil Mission Board.
The Board has produced an interim document Caring for soil is caring for life which is awaiting analysis and comments. The subtitle is more than clear: “Ensure 75% of soils are healthy by 2030 for healthy food, people, nature and climate: interim report of the mission board for soil health and food.”
Here is the introduction, which summarizes its content, in its entirety.
“Caring for Soil is Caring for Life” is the title of the mission proposed by the Soil Health and Food Mission Board. The mission’s goal is to “ensure that 75% of soils are healthy by 2030 and are able to provide essential ecosystem services”, such as the provision of food and other biomass, supporting biodiversity, storing and regulating the flow of water, or mitigating the effects of climate change. The target corresponds to a 100% increase of healthy soils against the current baseline. This interim report sets out the vision and the blueprint to reach this ambition through a combination of research and innovation, training and advice, as well as the demonstration of good practices for soil management using “Living labs” and “Lighthouses”. To be successful, the mission will also improve the monitoring of soil health and the pressures acting on them, mobilise investments, and encourage changes in policies. The mission will be a joint endeavour by stakeholders, researchers, policy-makers and citizens alike that will put Europe on a path towards sustainable land and soil management as part of a wider, green societal transition.
The report seems to indicate a way of “squaring the circle” as regards the soil. Starting from an analysis of the current situation creates a frame of reference that indicates a path to be followed. The authors deliberately avoid using technical language that is incomprehensible to non-specialists, rather making it abundantly clear that there is no time to waste, that action is needed now, and showing how this can be done. Thus research becomes the “universal joint” that allows the needed change to be gripped and guided. How? The Board explains it through 7 precise aims to be reached by 2030. They are:
- Land degradation including desertification in drylands is strongly reduced and 50% of degraded land is restored moving beyond land degradation neutrality.
- High soil organic carbon stocks (e.g. in forests, permanent pastures, wetlands) are conserved and current carbon concentration losses on cultivated land (0.5% per year) are reversed to an increase by 0.1-0.4% per year. The area of peatlands losing carbon is reduced by 30-50%.
- No net soil sealing and an increased re-use of urban soils for urban development from the current rate of 13% to 50%, to help stop the loss of productive land to urban development and meet the EU target of no net land take by 2050.
- Reduced soil pollution, with at least 25% area of EU farmland under organic agriculture, a further 5-25% of land with reduced risk from eutrophication, pesticides, anti-microbials and other contaminants, and a doubling of the rate of restoration of polluted sites prioritising brown field sites.
- Prevention of erosion on 30 to 50% of land with unsustainable erosion rates.
- Improved soil structure to improve habitat quality for soil biota and crops including a 30 to 50% reduction in soils with high density subsoils.
- 20-40% reduced global footprint of EU’s food and timber imports on land degradation, through strengthened international cooperation and trade regulations and carbon tax.
All clear and straightforward? The real work starts now. As far as the researchers are concerned, the Board has shown how to involve actors and individuals through the creation of open labs directly on the land (so-called Living Labs) and with the launch of reference experiences (Lighthouses). Conscious, however, of the difficulty of achieving the 7 targets, they point out the need to involve all the parties involved in soil use and have launched a campaign of discussion on a dedicated site called ‘Get involved!‘ where everyone can leave their own suggestions.
The difficult path to follow has been set out and the Board has started out along it. It is now the task of all of use to accelerate it and put it into action by the end of the year.