Joint press release by the Federal Environment Agency and the Soil Protection Commission (KBU) at the Federal Environment Agency

More lobbying for the precious resource soil

Consume less land area – preserve more fertile soils

A bucket full of soil on a maedow with various toy figurinesClick to enlarge
The soil is the "basis" for our everyday life.
Source: Jeannette Mathews / UBA

Some 70 hectares of land are rededicated in Germany every day as building land for settlements and roads. An area as large as the Tiergarten in Berlin thus disappears once every three days. Although land consumption in Germany has declined steadily since 2000, the current level of decline is not sufficient to reach the national sustainability objectives as concerns land consumption. The objective is to reduce land consumption to 30 hectares per day by 2020. The main reason for loss of soil worldwide is soil degradation: 24 million hectares – an area the size of Romania – are lost every year through erosion alone. The Soil Protection Commission (KBU) at the Federal Environment Agency will be discussing solutions for better soil protection at an expert forum entitled Wie viel Boden brauchen wir? [How much soil do we need?], which will be held on the occasion of World Soil Day on 5 December.

Some 13.5 per cent of the entire land area of Germany is used for settlement areas and traffic spaces. About one half of this land is sealed, which means that the traffic spaces either partly or entirely cover the surface. Local authorities are currently rededicating an average of 69 hectares every day of land used mainly for agriculture to land for settlements and traffic space. This rededication is expressed as land consumption. In 2000, land consumption was still at 131 hectares per day; that level of daily consumption is to be reduced to 30 hectares per day by 2020, in accordance with the objectives of the Federal Government's National Sustainability Strategy. Updated soil use data indicates that this objective can only be achieved if measures are taken which reach well beyond those which have been planned up to now. Land consumption could be reduced, for example, by issuing a general ban on building on greenfield sites. Another stumbling block is the competition between local authorities for tax revenues, which often leads to granting building permits for over-sized residential and industrial estates. The KBU instead proposes that local authorities should improve their marketing of available building land or provide financial incentives to unseal surfaces. Mr Franz Makeschin, Chairman of the Soil Protection Commission at the Federal Environment Agency, says, "Making better use of available building land and providing financial support for unsealing have a positive effect on our soil. It relieves the pressure on the land areas outside of settlements, which is to our advantage."

The degradation of soil has attracted worldwide attention for it is on the steady rise, partly because the various forms of land use are in ever greater competition against each other, for example the energy plants industry versus the food industry. Mr Jochen Flasbarth, President of the Federal Environment Agency, says, "The haggling for soil around the world began long ago: soil has now become a global good, an object of international investments. Sustainable soil management is often neglected in the process. This is why the goal of the Rio+20 Conference is so important – the demand for a land-degradation neutral world. What it means is that soil fertility may not be further degraded and that degraded land should be restored for use by agriculture and forestry." The KBU favours sustainable soil management in any form of agricultural land use, in particular in the growing of biomass crops. Mr Franz Makeschin remarks, "The over-intensive use of soil will ruin it, and that can lead to a permanent loss of soil function. Sustainable soil management is therefore vital – one which reduces pollutant inputs, contains erosion and soil compaction, and preserves soil's function as a carbon and water store. To maintain good soil quality, it is equally important to reduce land consumption. We agree with farmers on this point."

The Soil Protection Commission will seize the opportunity of World Soil Day to discuss additional measures with experts who can help further reduce land use and preserve high-quality soil. Jochen Flasbarth says, "World Soil Day on 5 December is also an important public relations event. 90 per cent of our food supply depends on intact soil. Having one day a year to think about this is not enough. We therefore support the proposal made by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to declare 2015 as the International Year of Soils."