UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 8. Status of soil pollution in Europe


Authors: Natalia Rodríguez Eugenio (FAO-GSP) and Marilena Ronzan (FAO-GSP)

The European region includes 42 countries: 27 European Union member states (EU27), Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greenland, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo1, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey and United Kingdom (Figure 1), as corresponds to the Global Soil Partnership regional division. The information provided in this regional assessment is frequently organized into two sub-regions: European Union member states and non-European Union member states, given the similarities of the legal frameworks within the European Union. It should be noted that many of the sources used for this report date before January 2020 and therefore include the United Kingdom of Great retain and Northern Ireland as part of the European Union. In these cases, reference will be made to the EU28, otherwise European Union refers only to the current 27 member states. Throughout this chapter reference is made to European soils or Europe, both of which refer to the 42 territories included in the regional assessment.

Figure 1. European region as considered in this report.

Source: UN, 2020 modified with data from FAO, 2021.

The European Union member states have a total population of 447 million people and a current gross domestic product (GDP) of almost 13.9 trillion USD (Eurostat, 2020). The other 15 countries have a combined population of 191 million people and a current GDP of 5 trillion USD, with the United Kingdom, Turkey and Switzerland leading in GDP in non-European Union countries (World Bank, 2021). The population in the region has grown steadily since the start of data collection in 1960, from about 450 million people to almost 640 million in 2019. The main economic activities vary among the countries of the region. Agriculture accounts for 1.6 percent of GDP in the EU, and while in the United Kingdom and Switzerland it accounts for only 0.6 percent, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Turkey it accounts for around 6 percent, in North Macedonia it accounts for 8 percent and in Albania it accounts for up to 18 percent of GDP. The industry and construction sectors also vary widely between countries and account for up to 22 percent of the European Union GDP. In the United Kingdom and Israel, the industrial sector accounts for 17 and 19 percent of GDP respectively. Turkey and Norway are the countries in the region where the industrial sector has the largest share of GDP, accounting for 27 percent and 29 percent of GDP, respectively. The manufacturing industry is also important in the region, accounting for around 18 percent of GDP in Switzerland and Turkey and 15 percent in the EU. This sector is less important in Albania and Norway, where it is reduced to 6 per cent (World Bank, 2021).

Environmental degradation is a pressing concern and most countries in the region have an ecological footprint that puts them above ecosystem boundaries (EEA, 2019b). Soil pollution in the European region is a major challenge and puts at risk human and environmental health and the sustainable development of the region. Despite being widely covered by various European Union directives and national legislation, polluted soils remain poorly inventoried and monitored and many areas still continue to pose a problem for the population (Dağhan and Öztürk, 2015; EEA, 2019a; MoEP Israel, 2019; Russo, 2019).

The report on soil pollution for the European region was prepared by collecting information from official UN, European and national reports and scientific publications as only 40 percent of the European Union Member States and 16 percent of the non-European Union countries have filled in the questionnaire mentioned in Chapter 1.

  • 1 Throughout the report, “Kosovo” refers to Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/99 (UNSC, 1999).