Mr Chairman, Minister Kupfer,
Mr Kuhl, Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank Mr Kuhl for hosting this
conference on behalf of Saxony and Minister Kupfer for his
enthusiastic support. I am sure today's proceedings will provide a
much needed insight on soil remediation activities across some
of the most active regions of Europe. It will highlight not only
the close connection between a proactive soil protection policy
and the existence of a thriving soil remediation industry, but also
set the foundations for some of the work Europe will need to do
to manage its land better.
For the future, land management and water management are
cited among the biggest challenges for the mankind. In the EU
itself, every year more than 1000 square kilometres are subject to
'land take' for housing, industry, roads or recreational purposes.
About half of this surface is actually sealed. In many regions soil
is irreversibly eroded or has low organic content. Soil
contamination is a serious problem. The competition and
pressures on land and soil are difficult and costly to reverse. And
for all these reasons, a comprehensive approach to soil proves to
be even more necessary, and only strategies will not be enough
to reach our objectives.
I will not repeat all the arguments that the Commission has been
putting forward since 2006 in favour of a European policy on
soil protection. They are as valid and pertinent today as they
were then. It is no mystery that I believe that EU legislation is a
fundamental cornerstone of that policy and I will continue
working for its adoption in Council.
On this, maybe Minister Kupfer for the moment may not
entirely agree with me. But where we surely agree, is that
experience shows that a strong and proactive policy and
legislation in favour of the identification and remediation of
contaminated sites, inevitably brings with it the development of
know-how, technologies and expertise. These can then be used
by entrepreneurs for developing an industry, creating jobs and
offering business opportunities. It brings better infrastructure
and land use planning.
Indeed, on the basis of 2004 data, 22% of the turn-over of the
remediation industry in EU-27 took place in Germany, 20% in
the Netherlands and 17% in Denmark (the three together almost
60%), while only 6% each in France and the United Kingdom.
My impression is that these numbers approximate the level of
policy attention to the issue and a legal framework geared
soil remediation, as opposed to a
that is mainly triggered by manifest contamination phenomena
or economic opportunity.
Incidentally, I am quoting figures from 2004 - because one of
the consequences of a lack of a common and binding approach
to soil protection in Europe is, that we do not have more recent
data and we have to rely on the results of past studies.
Today's presentations from Saxony, Germany, Denmark and
Northern France will highlight that the pollution legacy of a long
gone industrial past doesn't need translating into a stagnation of
the economy and parallel social decline, but can be tackled with
determination, in cooperation with local partners and city
authorities, to offer new development opportunities.
This brings me to some considerations inspired by the title of
this conference, that is, why should we have better land
management in Europe?
It is a fact that land degradation is literally eroding our land bank:
some 105 million hectares (16% of Europe's land area) are
affected by soil erosion; an increasing body of evidence shows
that soil organic matter in arable land in Europe is steadily
decreasing; a quarter of forest soils substantially exceed critical
limits for soil acidification; and we are losing at least around 250
hectares of land per day because of urban expansion and
Yet, we demand more and more from our limited land resources.
EU policies, such as the CAP, Regional Policy, bio-energy
targets and nature protection, have a significant and growing
impact on land use, often with competing demands.
Land management in Europe is important not only in terms of
reducing health risks and environmental impacts, but also in
terms of strategic importance that preserving our land resources
and the multi-functionality of European soils play in a global
The world's population is likely to reach 9 billion by 2050. And
many of these people rightly aspire to higher standards of living.
This means that by 2050 demand for food, feed and fibre is
forecast to increase by 70%. Yet, land – especially fertile land –
is a very limited resource. Globally, we depend on just 15% of
the Earth's landmass for food production, as the rest is either
too cold or too dry, too high, too salty and so on. In these
circumstances – and as we don’t have another planet – we have
no choice but to use the natural resources more efficiently. And
the land resource is a key one!
But let's take a closer look at the role of soil for food
production. According to the FAO, the amount of land for
agriculture will need to expand globally by 13% by 2030. Yet, in
the EU, the current land take of around 250 hectares per day
means that, every year, we lose a surface area larger than the city
of Berlin, or, every ten years, a surface area equal to Cyprus.
Most, if not all, of this lost land comes from agriculture, so in
the period 1990-2006 we lost the capacity of producing about
6.1 million tonnes of wheat. This is not an insignificant figure, as
it represents 15% of the annual French production, Europe's
largest wheat producer and one of the largest worldwide.
Can we then always rely on imports of food, feed and fibre?
We already use over 20 million hectare annually of food and feed
coming from the rest of the world. The growth in world
population, rising meat and dairy consumption in the emerging
economies, and expansion of bio-energy will all lead to increased
global land use and potential soil degradation. At the same time,
weather events linked to climate change, desertification, and land
take for urbanisation and infrastructure will aggravate this trend.
The EU will thus be even more dependent in future on its finite
land resources, which comprises some of the most fertile soils in
the world, and to their sustainable use.
That is why in September the European Commission adopted a
Roadmap to a resource efficient Europe
. The Roadmap is intended to
provide the predictable signals to public and private actors of the
direction they need to take in the coming decades, and it
provides the milestones to measure our progress.
It highlights that the current land take trend is unsustainable and
proposes that, by 2020, EU policies take into account their direct
and indirect impact on land use in the EU and globally, and the
rate of land take is on track with the aim of achieving no net
land take by 2050.
This is an ambitious milestone indeed, and reaching no net land
take by 2050 is therefore going to require a profound rethink of
the way in which we use our land, and of land use priorities. But
I'm afraid that in reality we do not have any other real
And tackling past soil pollution and regenerating brownfield sites
is a way of limiting land take and soil sealing, hence the
encroachment on agricultural land or green areas. This offers a
win-win opportunity which is going to become more and more
important in the future.
Among other actions that the Commission intends to undertake
to meet the milestone, are also work on Land Use
Communication and guidelines on best practice to limit, mitigate
or compensate soil sealing.
The EEA currently estimates that there are 1.8 million
potentially contaminated sites in Europe. Out of these, for
240,000 we actually already know that they are contaminated.
While the combined surface area of these sites is not known – it
could vary from a few square metres for a small petrol station to
tens of square kilometres for big industrial sites – it is likely to be
very large. The potential is there for exploiting already sealed soil
and avoiding land take on green areas and agricultural land.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before passing the floor to Minister Kupfer, I would like to
conclude by thanking him and also his colleagues in the Saxony
Office once again for cooperating with the Commission in
bringing to Brussels such an array of European experts on soil
remediation and brownfield regeneration. I am certain you will
make a valuable contribution to the reflection process on better
land use in the EU.
Questions of the land and soil management are simply too
serious that we could - by any chance - afford not to deal with
them with the same level of seriousness and responsibility. And
you can certainly count that the Commission and I personally
will continue to play an active role.
I wish you a successful meeting and thank you for your