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Soil resource efficiency in urbanised areas - analytical framework and implications for governance

In this report, the notion of soil as an integral part of ecosystems and natural capital is explored and thus focused on the stock of the soil resource and the flows of valuable goods and services that can be derived from this stock.

The concept of natural capital recognises soil as an asset that is of use and benefit to society (also called a 'productive' asset). Putting soil within the framework of the land system allows a connection to be made with governance, including soil resource efficiency.

Land is a resource or asset that can, in principle, be governed from different governance levels, and thus requires a multi-level approach to its governance. At the global level, the United Nations (UN) Rio+20 Summit (UNGA, 2012) called for a land-degradation-neutral world in the context of sustainable development, in particular recognising soil degradation as part of land degradation. The European Union (EU) has also committed to this goal. The EU's 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) (EU, 2013a) 'aims to ensure that by 2020 land is managed sustainably' (EEA, 2015a)

Sensitivity to desertification and drought in Europe ( Geographical Coverage: France, Montenegro, Serbia, Portugal, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Spain, Slovenia, Albania, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece)

Soil underpins 90% of all human food, fiber, and fuel and is essential for water and ecosystem health. It is a global carbon sink; holding an important role in the potential slowing of climate change. Soil conserves the remains of our past, it is a reservoir for genes and is an important element of our cultural heritage, through the maintenance of landscapes and biodiversity. Nevertheless, soil is being exploited and irreversibly lost and degraded as a result of conflicting demands from most economic sectors.

Throughout Europe soil contamination affects almost 250 000 sites, and is expected to continue growing. Potentially polluting activities are estimated at nearly 3 million sites across the EU, many of which need further investigation to establish the damage and whether soil remediation (clean up) is required. Although considerable efforts have been made in some countries, it will take decades to clean up the legacy of soil contamination. Over the last 30 years approximately 80 000 sites have been cleaned up in the countries where data on remediation is available.

Human and ecological systems rely on soil for the provision of water and nutrients for plant growth, the regulation of the water cycle and the storage of carbon. Climate change and its impacts — increases in temperature, changing precipitation patterns, floods, droughts — will not only affect us but may also affect how soil provides these services. Importantly soil is a major factor in our response to tackling climate change as it is the second largest carbon pool after the oceans.

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