Press Release: 500 organisations sign open letter to Jean-Claude Juncker urging him to protect our soil

500 organisations sent an open letter to the President of the European Commission (EC) Jean-Claude Juncker today urging him to enact legislation to protect our soils from further degradation.

The letter was sent to coincide with this Saturday’s celebration of Earth Day, an international day of action to highlight the work of environmental movements worldwide.

The letter was sent by the organisers of the “People4Soil” European Citizens’ Initiative on behalf of the 500 European organisations promoting a petition –  – calling on the European Commission to pass a Soil Directive.

The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental NGOs – is leading the Irish branch of the campaign, with 8,000 signatures needed in Ireland for the petition to pass.

In Europe, there are around 170 million hectares of agricultural soils, equivalent to approximately 39% of the EU territory. (1) Although considerable, this area is insufficient to meet the demand for food and raw materials in the European market.

Over the last half century, Irish soils have come under increasing threat, primarily from surface sealing (urbanisation) and human activity through poor land management practices.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the absence of an EU Soils Directive, “the challenge remains to ensure a consistent approach to protecting and managing our limited soil resource”. (3)

With three million sites polluted across Europe and 500 hectares of land estimated to be degraded across Europe every day, this task will become even more difficult without urgent action. (4) If we really want to stop soil degradation, we have to start from a common framework and urgently develop European legislation to protect our soils.

The need for strong European legislation is especially clear in light of a recent report funded by the European Commission itself (5). The report highlights the lack of a coherent strategic policy framework for soil conservation in Europe and a general lack of action across EU member states.

The report also outlines the lack of common definitions of soil status across EU member states, which has, in turn, led to further difficulties in establishing European-wide targets and priorities for soil conservation.

The letter sent today also outlines the duty of EU member states to halt land degradation in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) objective to “halt land degradation globally by 2030”. SDG 15 also puts emphasis on delivering “a land degradation neutral world” with around a third of the planet’s soils already degraded. (6)

The letter also points to the importance of protecting soil from a security and economic perspective, with healthy soils key to agricultural production and increasing resilience to the threat of climate change.

A 2015 report from the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative found that land degradation – decreased vegetation cover and increased soil erosion – is costing the world $10.6 trillion, or 17% of global gross GDP. (7)

A further report by the Commission’s own Joint Research Centre in 2015 found that emissions from EU organic soils amount to 173 Mton CO2 per year, making the EU the world’s second largest emission’s hotspot due to organic soil degradation. (8)

The letter to Mr Juncker states:

“We are writing on behalf of more than 500 European NGOs, research institutes, farmers associations and environmental groups, partners of the “PEOPLE4SOIL” network.  All of these bodies are committed to the European Citizens’ Initiative which is targeted at introducing specific European regulation for soil preservation.

“The year 2015 – International Year of Soils declared by the UN General Assembly – generated a considerable amount of communication, as well as a great boost to scientific research. This reflected an improved awareness and global concern related to land degradation, and to its consequences for our life, well-being and climate change scenarios.

“The lack of a dedicated legally binding framework, fixing principles and rules to be complied with by the Member States is unacceptable.

“This situation is certainly not coherent with the objectives of an economic and political Union that should provide for uniformity of rules, ensure equal opportunities for citizens and businesses, and their consistency with a common level of protection of health and environment.”

“It is now clear that the prevention of land degradation and the acknowledgement of soil as a provider of fundamental ecosystem and production services are now key conditions for sustainable development, human well-being, international cohesion and security in food supplies.”


(1)European Parliament, “Precision agriculture and the future of farming in Europe”, December 2016:

(2)Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, ‘Status of the World’s Soil Resources’, 2015:

(3)Environmental Protection Agency, ‘State of the Environment Report’, 2016:

(4)European Environment Agency, ‘Progress in management of contaminated sites,’ September 2015:

(5)Ecologic Institute, “Inventory and Assessment of Soil Protection Policy Instruments in EU Member States,” February 2017:

(6)Maria-Helena Semedo, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Scientific American, “Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues,”

(7)Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, “The Value of Land,” September 2015:

(8)European Commission Joint Research Center and the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy, “Soil threats in Europe: status, methods, drivers and effects on ecosystem services,” November 2015:

Media Contact 

Niall Sargent

Communications Manager

Environmental Pillar

Notes for Editor:

Copy of the Letter to Jean-Claude Juncker:

People4Soil campaign

People4Soil Ireland was launched in the National Botanic Gardens on World Soil Day, December 5, 2016.

The campaign calls on the European Commission to pass a Soil Directive which would safeguard Irish and European soils. We are doing this using a European Citizen’s Initiative petition – the official way for ordinary Europeans to call on the European Commission to act on the things citizens care about, Ireland needs 8,000 signatures (1 million in total from 7 different EU States) in order for the petition to be passed.

The People4Soil petition is endorsed by Darina Allen and the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Dee Laffan Chairperson of Slow Food Dublin, Catherine Martin TD the Green Party, Duncan Stewart Environmentalist and TV presenter, Cara Augustenborg Chairperson Friends of the Earth, Lynn Boylan MEP Sinn Féin, Caroline Byrne Secretary General of Euro-Toques Ireland, Thibaud Harang & Enrico Fantasia of Piglet Wine Bar, Matt Smith of Moy Hill farm and Giulia Caesar & Martin Obst from NCAD Community Gardens.

Click link to see Darina Allen’s video endorsement:

Earth Day

The event has been organised to coincide with Earth Day on Saturday, 22nd April. Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the environmental movement in 1970. Earth Day has traditionally been a day of focus on the environment often involving the signing of petitions.

Click link for more information on Earth Day:

About the Environmental Pillar

The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising 26 national environmental organisations.  It works to promote the protection and enhancement of the environment, together with the creation of a viable economy and a just society, without compromising the viability of the planet on which we live for current and future generations of all species and ecosystems. For more information, please see our website.

Member Organisations of the Environmental Pillar

An Taisce, Bat Conservation Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland, Centre for Environmental Living and Training, Cloughjordan Ecovillage, CoastWatch, Coomhola Salmon Trust, ECO-UNESCO, FEASTA, Forest Friends, Friends of the Earth, Global Action Plan, Gluaiseacht, Good Energies Alliance, Green Foundation Ireland, Green Economy Foundation, Irish Wildlife Trust, Hedge Laying Association of Ireland, Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Irish Seed Savers Association, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Native Woodland Trust, Sonairte, Sustainable Ireland Cooperative (Cultivate), The Organic Centre, VOICE, Zero Waste Alliance.