ROME, Jan. 28, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Soil is a non-renewable resource; it takes 2000 years to form a layer of just 10 centimetres. Yet national, European and international policies have neglected soil and its fertility. The results are extremely alarming: one third of the world's soils are degraded, productive land is reduced by 1,000 square kilometres every year just because it is sealed off by buildings and roads. In Italy more than 4% of the country is sterile and more than 21% is considered to be at risk of desertification. But soil conservation is a central issue in mitigating the climate crisis: the Planet's fertile soils could absorb 0.7 billion tons of carbon each year, the equivalent of all emissions produced by fossil combustion in the entire European Union. To better understand this potential a network of monitors and sensors that makes better use of the register of soils is needed. And it is essential to have a European Directive that deals directly with soil, unlike fauna, flora, biodiversity, water, air and climate.
The Re Soil Foundation has been set up to promote real change, starting with soil health and the key concept of land regeneration. Catia Bastioli, Novamont's CEO and member of the EU Mission Board on soil, Guido Saracco, Rector of the Turin Polytechnic, and Francesco Ubertini, Rector Alma Mater Studiorum of the University of Bologna, will present the foundation in a press conference today. Its objective: to promote activities in the fields of scientific research, technology transfer, training and dissemination, and to raise awareness, preserve soil health and promote the recovery of organic matter to support quality of life and the decarbonisation of our system.
"To combat the climate and environmental crisis we need to be aware of the earth's ecosystem: today the soil is an unidentified legal object," explains Catia Bastioli. "We need a European directive to protect it; incentives must not only reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, but also restore carbon to the soil. The protagonists of this turnaround should be the farmers, who should be remunerated not only for their work on food production but also for their work as custodians of the land, for their contribution in bringing back carbon and therefore fertility to the land."
There is a close but complex correlation between soil management, agriculture and climate crisis, explain the promoters of the initiative. On the one hand, worldwide, the loss of organic matter from soils is responsible for 20% of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. The agriculture and forestry sector is responsible for just under a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Europe is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases from agriculture in the world. On the other hand, fertile land and agricultural production itself are among the first victims of the extreme events, floods and droughts that are a direct result of the change taking place. Already today erosion affects 20% of the Union's surface area: 10 tonnes of soil per hectare are lost every year. By 2050 climate change could lead to a reduction in agricultural production of up to 50% in some regions, led by Italy and the Mediterranean. For these reasons too the European Union has recently set up a mission board whose mandate is to identify lines of action for healthy and fertile soil.
Worldwide, the estimated costs of soil degradation vary between $18 billion and $20 trillion per year. The loss of ecosystem services due to soil degradation costs between 6.3 and 10.6 trillion dollars per year, or 10-17% of world GDP.
"Our first objective is to start a revolution in production with the creation of a sustainable, territorially-based bio-economy strategy in first place," continues Novamont's CEO. "First by using organic waste as compost to restore soil fertility. In Europe, only 33% out of a total of 96 million tonnes of organic waste is recycled and 66% still goes to landfill. Italy is a bit better off, with recycling at around 50%, but there is still a very great deal to do. In this respect a priority objective must be to avoid accumulation in soils through the use of products that are able to biodegrade in different environments (industrial composting, domestic composting, in the soil, water purification systems), in particular for those applications where there is a risk of accidental release and the build-up of residues."
"In this scenario" – explains Guido Saracco, Rector of the Turin Polytechnic – "it becomes essential to promote specific actions to create awareness of the problem and to act on various parts of the integrated systems, bringing the infrastructure up to speed, incorporating the best of existing technologies, investing and innovating in the field, slowing down degradation and contamination and acting in cooperation with local communities for a development model that places clean healthy soil, which is fundamental to life on planet Earth, right at the centre. In this context opportunities will also arise to develop physical, chemical and biotechnologies capable of using the various raw materials made available. Regenerative technologies, that is ones able to regenerate natural resources affected by serious degradation, paying particular attention to soil and water, will be important".
"Soil, above all a fertile and healthy soil, is a non-renewable resource that is essential for the life of most living things on the planet," declares Francesco Ubertini, Rector Alma Mater Studiorum of the University of Bologna. "The Bioeconomy, i.e. agri-forestry production and ecosystem services, food production, but also the production of bioproducts and biofuels, crucially depends on fertile soil. But the man-made pressure exerted on soils and the increasing loss of organic matter constitute a threat to food security in various parts of the world. There is therefore a need to reverse the trend, favouring the input of organic matter into the soil and its assimilation and, at the same time, more sustainable and wiser use of it. This requires research and innovation, but also training and information, and this will be the contribution guaranteed by universities in this new strategic action".
The revolution in a land-based bioeconomy represents an opportunity for regenerating not only soils, but also the European economy, through the development of appropriate plant engineering, the deployment of biochemical, physical and biotechnological processes to transform waste into products, and the creation of new jobs. A study by the European Compost Network indicates that already today the collection and treatment of organic waste generates 23,000 jobs. If 100% of organic waste was treated properly, an additional 52,000 jobs could be created in rural areas and 16,000 in urban areas. In Italy, if the differentiated collection of wet waste were to be extended to all municipalities, employment could grow from the current 9,900 jobs and a turnover of €1.8 billion to 13,000 jobs and €2.4 billion.
Re Soil Foundation has been founded by Politecnico of Turin, Novamont and University of Bologna with the aim of promoting scientific and technological research, training and dissemination activities to create a productive revolution that focuses on a sustainable bioeconomy with the territories at the center.
Francesca De Sanctis