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Towards sustainable management of land and soil

Europe's land and soil face a number of pressures, including urban expansion, contamination from agriculture and industry, soil sealing, landscape fragmentation, low crop diversity, soil erosion and extreme weather events linked to climate change. Greener cities with cleaner energy and transport systems, a green infrastructure connecting green areas, less intensive sustainable agricultural practices can help make Europe's land use more sustainable and soils healthier.

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State of play

State of play

30 Sep 2019

Europe’s land cover has remained relatively stable since 2000, with about 25 % covered by arable land and permanent crops, 17 % by pastures and 34 % by forests. At the same time, cities and concrete infrastructures continue to expand and the total area used for agriculture decreased. Although artificial surfaces cover less than 5 % of the wider EEA territory, a sizeable area still became sealed (covered by concrete or asphalt) between 2000 and 2018. The good news is that the rate of increase in artificial surface areas has slowed down in recent years.

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Soil, land and climate change

Soil contains significant amounts of carbon and nitrogen, which can be released into the atmosphere depending on how we use the land. Clearing or planting forests, the melting of permafrost can tilt the greenhouse gas emission balance one way or the other. Climate change can also substantially alter what farmers can produce and where.

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Nature's nutrient cycle

Soil plays a crucial role in nature’s cycles, including the nutrient cycle, which involves how much soil organic matter — i.e. carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus — is taken up and stored in soil. Organic compounds, such as leaves and root tips, are broken down to simpler compounds by organisms living in soil before they can be used by plants. Some soil bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into mineral nitrogen, which is essential for plant growth. Fertilisers introduce nitrogen and phosphates to induce plant growth but not all amounts are taken up by plants. The excess can enter rivers and lakes and affect life in these water ecosystems.

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Soil and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Many global policy frameworks, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),directly and indirectly address land and soil. Many of these SGDs cannot be achieved without healthysoils and a sustainable land use. Below is an overview of the SDGs with strong links to soil.

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