Just published: Special report n°33/2018: Combating desertification in the EU: a growing threat in need of more action
The European Commission does not have a clear picture of the challenges presented by the growing threats of desertification and land degradation in the EU, according to a new report by the European Court of Auditors. The steps taken so far by the Commission and Member States to combat desertification have limited coherence, say the auditors, and the Commission has not assessed progress towards its goal of achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.
Desertification is a form of land degradation in drylands. It is a growing threat in the EU. The long period of high temperatures and low rainfall in the summer of 2018 reminded us of the pressing importance of this problem.
Climate change scenarios indicate an increasing vulnerability to desertification in the EU throughout this century, with increases in temperatures and droughts and less precipitation in southern Europe. Its effects will be particularly acute in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania.
The authors found that the risk of desertification in the EU was not being effectively and efficiently addressed. While desertification and land degradation are growing threats, the steps taken to combat desertification lack coherence. There is no shared vision in the EU about how land degradation neutrality will be achieved by 2030. We recommend the Commission aims at a better understanding of land degradation and desertification in the EU; assesses the need to enhance the EU legal framework for soil; and steps up actions towards delivering the commitment made by the EU and the Member States to achieve land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030.
Thirteen EU Member States have self-declared under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification that they are affected by desertification. In 2015, the EU and Member States committed to strive to achieve land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030.
The auditors visited five EU Member States affected by desertification: Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Portugal and Romania, and examined whether the risk of desertification in the EU was being effectively and efficiently addressed.
They found that, while desertification and land degradation are current and growing threats in the EU, the Commission does not have a clear picture of the challenges, and the steps taken to combat desertification have limited coherence.
“We are seeing an increase in droughts, aridity and risk of desertification due to climate change in the EU”, said Phil Wynn Owen, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “Desertification can bring about poverty, health problems due to wind-blown dust, and a decline in biodiversity. It can also have demographic and economic consequences, forcing people to migrate away from affected areas. As auditors, we have a responsibility to draw attention to such risks, which could place growing pressure on public budgets, both at EU and national levels.”
The auditors recommend:
- establish a methodology to assess the extent of desertification and land degradation in the EU, and, based on this, analyse the relevant data and present it regularly;
- assess the appropriateness of the current legal framework for the sustainable use of soil across the EU, including addressing desertification and land degradation;
- further detail how the EU’s commitment to land degradation neutrality will be achieved by 2030, and report regularly on progress;
- provide guidance to Member States on preserving soil and achieving land degradation neutrality in the EU, including dissemination of good practices;
- at their request, provide technical support to Member States to establish national action plans to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.