Soil is responsible for a wide variety of ecological and socioeconomic services: habitat for human beings, animals and plants, provision of a major part of material transformation and decomposition processes in ecosystems, filtration and storage for water- and mass balance, basis for agriculture and forestry, archive of natural and cultural history.
At the same time, soils are complex and sensitive systems that are exposed to numerous human induced burdens. In her strategy for soil protection, the EU Commission has identified the following issues: Loss of biodiversity, compaction, contamination, erosion, salinization, shrinking share of organic humus, land sealing, landslides, acidification and desertification.
For Germany, there are losses due to continuous land sealing and the input of pollutants and nutrients, especially by agriculture. In addition there is erosion and soil compaction.
Soil damages normally develop very slowly. However, once occurred degradations mostly take a long recovery time: In contrast to air, soil is a largely non-renewable resource. Moreover, because of soil’s multifunctionality its damages have an impact on several other environmental spheres. Vice versa, impacts in other areas like air pollution or changes in climate affect the functioning of the soil system.
Looking at costs of soil degradation it must be noted that costs of air pollution are covered in component 14. The main issue of land sealing is basically taken into account in the components 16 (loss of ecosystems) and 17 (loss of agricultural areas).
The cost of soil erosion for Germany adds up to 1,1 billion euro per year. Hitherto, they are included into the NWI calculation merely as a constant planned item value that “reminds” of soil degradation as a cost factor, whose comprehensive monetary valuation was impossible until now. Prospectively, neither the costs of soil loss, let alone other soil problems are covered entirely. For the time being, damage costs coming from erosion can be seen as representative for additional costs (for example, coming from biocides and fertilizers).
Particularly problematic is the neglect of the main issue for Germany, the input of pollutants and nutrients by agriculture as well as through the air caused by industry, traffic and energy production. This is even worse since in this case there is the danger of accumulation of pollutants (“Persistent Pollutants”). As far as the burden caused by air pollution is concerned, the damages to forest soil need to be equally taken into account. They imply soil degradation due to eutrophying and acidifying inputs. Notwithstanding the above it must be noted that soil protection is an important contribution to preserve social welfare, due to the diverse functions of the soil as an environmental medium.