Global land use issues, land take in Europe and soil sealing addressed at the high level Soil Conference held by the European Commission

On 10-11 May 2012, DG Environment organised a high-level, two-day soil conference in Brussels. Some of the key issues discussed were soil degradation, urban sprawl and food production. These discussions were carried out from a global and EU perspective. The conference was closed by a high-level panel discussion attended by Commissioners Dacian Cioloş and Janez Potočnik and leading representatives of the European Parliament, the Committee of Regions and Copa Cogeca. The second day of the conference in particular attracted the attention of large audiences from national and regional administrations, research circles, environment groups and farmers’ associations across the EU.

The first session of the panel discussion addressed global land use issues and soil management in a changing climate. The speakers were from the Wuppertal Institute, Friends of the Earth and Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam. The second session heard speakers from the Austrian Environment Agency Vienna and Joint Research Centre of the European Commission presenting state-of-the-art research on land take in the EU and soil sealing, and their impact on the EU’s ability to produce food. The third session was devoted to the presentation of the new soil sealing guidelines that were developed by the Commission to improve land management in the EU and the ways of mainstreaming urban regeneration in the Cohesion Policy funds post 2013.

These discussions were structured around three questions;

  • Is the land take in the EU unsustainable and are imports of land, food and fibre too high?
  • Is there a need to protect EU land and what instruments at EU level would be appropriate?
  • What is the role of land users and land planners in preventing unsustainable land use?

Although the speakers shared concern over the current levels of land take, they differed in their views on the need for EU policy action. Commissioner Cioloş, supported by Commissioner Potočnik, made a strong case for defending the current greening proposals in the CAP reform package. In addition, it was indicated that land efficiency is likely to be one of the key issues in the Commission’s proposal for 7th Environmental Action programme, to be launched later this year. MEP Sandrine Bélier drew attention to the urgency of re-opening the negotiation of the Soil Directive proposal, and expressed hope for potential changes in the positions of some of the blocking countries linked to the current or expected shifts in the respective national political leaderships. The main argument dominating the discussion was the division between the farmer industry representative (Copa Cogeca) and the Commission on the issue of whether the current levels of land take imply a more environmentally conscious CAP, or conversely for increasing the productivity of European agriculture. There was also much discussion of the potential impact of the proposed greening measure for Ecological Focus Areas on the sustainability of EU land use.

More information about the conference can be viewed here:

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29 May 2012