Economic Assessment of Soil Deterioration
Soil is the basis of all economic and cultural activities; however, this "fundamental" economic value of soil is barely recognised. As part of a project for the European Commission, Ecologic and the French Geological Survey (BRGM) will therefore estimate the economic consequences that the continued degradation of European soils implies.
In the past, soil protection has not been a specific policy area in the EU. The creation of a community "Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection" by 2004, as foreseen in the 6th Environment Action Programme, will change this situation. In April 2002, the European Commission published a communication "Towards a Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection". The communication outlines the scope of such a strategy and is the first commission document that deals comprehensively with soil protection. The major threats for soil identified in the communication are erosion, decline in organic matter, contamination, sealing, compaction, biodiversity decline, salinisation, floods and landslides. The activities of the strategy will gather policy relevant information in the first place and then address human activities. Core elements will be a proposal for a piece of soil monitoring legislation and a communication on soil erosion, soil organic matter loss and soil contamination. It can be assumed that the soil monitoring legislation to be proposed by 2004 will only be the initial basis for a community soil policy and more legislation in this area might be expected as it is the case for other policy areas.
In the decision-making process, socio-economic issues are one of the major parameters to be taken into account, at the various scales of soil and land management. Socio-economic implications of the potential evolutions due to climate change, modifications of land use, or the appearance of new perturbations or alternative scenarios aiming at natural resources quality restoration or protection have to be assessed. In this way, it can not only be achieved that sustainable soil management is achieved in the most cost-effective way, reducing the economic impact of soil protection measures on affected parties. Moreover, it can be shown that soil as a “fundamental”, nonrenewable resource is at the basis of many economic activities, and that a precautionary approach to soil protection also makes good economic sense.
As a contribution to the development of a European Soil Strategy, Ecologic and the French geological survey institute BRGM have been commissioned by the European Commission to assess the cost of soil degradation in Europe. To this end, Ecologic will compile a survey of the relevant agroeconomic literature and the available empirical estimates. In a second phase of the project, BRGM will carry out five exemplary case studies, which will illustrate the cost of erosion, contamination and salinisation. On the basis of the literature survey and the case studies, in the last step an assessment of the total cost of soil degradation in Europe will be produced.
The results of the project can be downloaded in four separate volumes: