Developing individual strategies to tackle local environmental challenges
Specific environmental challenges have been identified by the European Union in recent decades. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on the challenges facing soils, biodiversity, and forests.
Healthy soils are essential for healthy plant growth, water filtration and human nutrition. Soil allows us to grow a wide variety of fruit and vegetables that we all enjoy today. Soil is vital to the environment because:
• Soil provides a growing medium for Plants and Trees
• Soil provides roots with Nutrients and Minerals
• It supports the exchange of Oxygen and Gases
• Marine soils protect coastlines
• Foundation for Construction and raw materials
Figure 1: Fertile Soil. Source: Unsplash.com
Figure 2: Soil Comparison. Source: Unsplash.com
Unfortunately, climate change will continue to have a negative effect on soil around the world until we can meet our climate targets to reduce CO2 emissions. According to research by the World Wildlife Fund, 50% of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the past 150 years. Added to this, farming methods that overuse the soils nutrients are widespread. With the size of farms getting bigger, and with countries incentivising intensive farming practices: soil erosion, waterlogging and compaction are all getting worse. Cambridge Dictionary describes compaction as ‘the process by which the pressure on buried solid material causes the material to stick together and change to rock’.
If farms repeatedly use their land for the same crops, this will leave no time for the nutrients in the soil to recover and, over the years, lead to poorer soil quality and a lower overall yield of crops and grassland.
In reality, poor soil quality also means more flooding, increased droughts, and high river discharges across the world and this will ultimately end up in desertification. Desertification is the process by which land changes into desert. According to The United Nations Decade for Deserts (2010-2020) and the fight against desertification, 12 million hectares of land – an area that could produce the equivalent of 20 million tonnes of grain annually – are lost to desertification every year. The long-term consequences are significant because it could mean significant food shortages or possible war over productive land.
To continue to be able to produce the plants, fruits, and vegetables we consume, we need to protect our soil from overuse or damage that cannot be reversed. We must conserve and protect the soil we already have and make sure that we introduce land management practices and crop rotation on farms, while ensuring we do not overstock land with animals.
Figure 3: Soil degradation. Source: Unsplash.com
Biodiversity is the variety of all living things on Earth and how they fit together in the web of life, bringing oxygen, water, food, and countless other benefits. Biodiversity is not just something beautiful to look at and appreciate, it also provides us with a lot of our basic needs.
Take bees as a prime example. The importance of bees as pollinators cannot be overstated. According to the World Economic Forum:
Nature thrives with biodiversity and dies without it. In many ways, biodiversity could be described as providing checks and balances on our ecosystem. However, if this ecosystem is damaged, the consequences can be significant.
Figure 4: Biodiversity. Source: Unsplash.com
Biodiversity loss is happening across the world at an alarming rate. According to the BBC, there has been on average almost a 70% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians since 1970. The Earth is currently on the verge of ecological meltdown unless drastic action is taken. Climate change is having a negative impact both directly and indirectly on species and ecosystems. Habitats are being destroyed, ecosystems are being changed and air, water, and soil is being is being over-exploited and polluted. In Europe we continue to see record breaking temperatures for heat, with the current record at 48.8c in Sicily in August 2021, according to The Guardian.
Figure 5: Heatwave. Source: Unsplash.com
To counteract these issues the European Union has introduced a Biodiversity strategy for 2030, and their plan is to:
The Biodiversity Strategy has 3 stages: protection, restoration, and enforcement:
1. Protection - Ensure that the remaining forest and pollinators are protected, by reducing pollution, and pesticide use and supporting farmers to shift to agroecological and organic practices.
2. Restoration - Restore damaged ecosystems and rivers, improve the health of EU-protected habitats and species, and for transforming at least 30% of Europe's lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas and bringing back at least 10% of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features.
3. Enforcement - The targets set will be legally binding as they have been assessed to be realistic and work in practice.
Britannica Dictionary: https://www.britannica.com/science/deforestation
Cambridge Dictionary: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/restoration
Cambridge Dictionary: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/compaction
Briggs, H (2021). Biodiversity loss risks 'ecological meltdown' – scientists. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58859105
Painter, S. Why Is Soil So Important? Available at: https://garden.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Why_is_Soil_So_Important
World Wildlife Fund. Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/soil-erosion-and-degradation
Greenfield & Weston (2021). The five biggest threats to our natural world … and how we can stop them.
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/14/five-biggest-threats-natural-world-how-we-can-stop-them-aoe
World Economic Forum. 75% of crops depend on pollinators - they must be protected.
Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/12/protect-pollinators-food-security-biodiversity-agriculture/