Forests are clearly massively important in terms of climate change adaptation and mitigation. This fact is accepted by most people. However, soil, the anchor of trees and their roots, is largely ignored and absent from the debate on climate change and from the policy arena in general. Unless this changes and we decide to take good care of our soil, the whole future of humanity is on shaky ground.
Soil protection can and must play a crucial role if global warming is to be kept well below 2˚C and preferably below 1.5°C as agreed in the international Paris climate agreement last year.
Soils, when managed sustainably, play an important role in climate change mitigation by storing carbon and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. There is more carbon stored in soil than in the atmosphere and in vegetation combined. A release of just 0.1% of the carbon now contained in European soils would be equal to the annual emissions of 100 million cars. Moving from intensive farming practices to organic farming, for instance, increases the soil carbon stock.
On the other hand, land use change, for example, cutting down forests, turning grassland into farmland or paving it over for urban development, land degradation, poor soil management and unsustainable agricultural practices, such as the use of heavy machinery and the planting of single crops (monoculture) on one farm, can contribute to climate change.
And healthy soils are not only important for change mitigation, they also help communities deal with the effects of climate change by, for instance, improving the ability of soils to retain water and thereby reducing the likelihood of drought and flood impacts and increasing food security.
Despite this — and the fact that soil is vital for food production — soil remains well down in the EU’s list of priorities and virtually unprotected. The United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda, which world leaders signed up to in 2015, agrees to “progressively improve land and soil quality” and “strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world”. But there are still no legislative proposals from the European Commission in the pipeline.
This is why civil society has decided to take the initiative into its own hands and over 300 European organisations, including the EEB, have launched the People4Soil initiative. This calls for EU leaders to keep soils healthy by establishing a coherent pan-European soil policy.
Soil is often a private asset, but it delivers services for everyone. Supporters of People4Soil are convinced that common European rules are needed to prevent the loss of this resource, which is essential for the health of present and future generations. If the initiative manages to collect one million signatures by September 2017, the European Commission will be forced to take action according to the rules of the European Citizens Initiative.
If you haven’t already done so, it is therefore time to sign the petition people4soil.eu and make change happen!
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