Sino-EU Panel on Land and Soil


With experiencing the growing importance of interdependences between land resources and socio-economic systems in Europe and China, information exchange on this issue has been constantly growing between the parties in the last years. The need for coordinated joint efforts facilitated by a formal and permanent platform on the field became evident for both Chinese and European decision makers.

The initiative of Mr. Janez Potocnik commissioner of the European Union and Mr. Zhongli Ding, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to tighten the links on this priority field led to the establishment of the Sino-EU Panel on Land and Soil (SEPLS).

The SEPLS has been established on 29-30 June, 2010, in Ispra, Italy with the participation of leading soil scientist and land system researchers representing the main geographical regions of China and the EU and covering a wide range of disciplines within the land resources domain. With the establishment of the Sino-EU Panel on Land and Soil the parties will be in a position to exchange information on a formalized and well structured manner and harmonize their information-base for responses to the threats arising from the natural and socio-economic pressure on soil and land resources.


The Sino-EU Panel on Land and Soil (SEPLS) is a scientific body with a goal to provide decision makers in Europe and China with a clear scientific view on the current state of land and soil resources and potential environmental and socio-economic consequences of their future utilization patterns.


1. Evaluate and Report Scientific results for policy support
2. Propose Priority issues for research projects
3. Policy Evaluation adn Advice
4. Awareness Raising(Public, Across sectors)


1. Prepare summary documents on key issues 
2. Promote exchange of expertise between China and the EU in order to have a common understanding of land issues


Optimization of land use on local, regional and national levels encompass complex decisions on socio-economic and ecological priorities. However, social and economic interests and the interest of ecological systems often conflict. This trilemma in land use policy (figure 1.) can only be resolved by the integration of local characteristics to the decision-making process on the different levels of policy hierarchies.

Trilema policy

Figure 1. Trilemma in land use policy (Li, 2010)

The SEPLS identified crosscutting topics in the domain of the ‘land use trilemma’ which needs to be addressed in priority. Activities of the SEPLS will focus in these priority topics:

  • 1. Food security 
    To secure adequate food supply is the major challenge for humanity in the 21st century. Growing world population puts pressure on this basic need, which is further threatened by the constant loss of fertile land. The assessment of sustainability of food supply under increasing pressure on land resources has been selected as the most important priority topic of the activity of the SEPLS. Two components of land pressures are identified for detailed study in the food security assessment:
    • a. Urban and peri-urban development (soil sealing and loss of land functions) 
      Urbanization and the linked spread of infrastructural development mean sealing of soil surfaces. Soil sealing is the most rapidly growing limitation for soil functions (including biomass production function) both in China and Europe. Soil sealing in China has been taking dramatic degree in the last two decades and the process is estimated to continue in the coming period as well. While urban and peri-urban development is looked as a necessity for social development, its negative effect on natural resources are inevitable.
    • b. Land degradation 
      Despite the widely recognized importance of land degradation in the unsustainability of economic development and implementation of various policies to halt degradation (eg. green for grain programme in China; cross-compliance measures in the EU), loss of land productivity by degradation is an ongoing process both in China and the EU. Major forms of soil degradation (erosion, desertification, landslides etc.) are similar in both regions. Assessment of the causes and consequences of soil degradation processes in relation to policy actions is highlighted among the priorities of the SEPLS.
  • 2. Space allocation scenarios (land use/cover change and its impacts) Solution for the land use trilemma (Figure 1.) implies adequate space allocation to fulfil all short- and long term societal needs, including the sustainability of food supply, economic growth and ecological security. Determination of sufficient space allocation for different uses in the changing world requires a dynamic approach, where a feedback mechanism is applied to assess the consequences of different land use scenarios for the priority targets. Chinese and European conditions differ, and local characteristics are diverse within their regions as well. However, interlinkages between the economic systems and dependencies from global trends (climate change, social development etc.) make common thinking and harmonized solutions necessary.
  • 3. Ecosystem services Terrestrial ecosystems provide a number of services from which human society benefits. Ecosystem services provide such basic public needs like clean water, liveable climate (through C sequestration) or maintenance of biodiversity. Four main categories of ecosystem services have been identified by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UN, 2005) including provisional services (e.g. food), regulating services (e.g. carbon sequestration, waste decomposition, water purification), supporting services (e.g. nutrient cycling) and cultural services (e.g. ecotourism). It is the intention of the SEPLS to provide a view on the availability, potentials and use of these services in China and the EU.
  • 4. Land management practices and pressures on soil resources and water resources. 
    Influence of human impact (by land use change; amelioration/restoration measures; degradation effects) on the ecological conditions of soil; as well as the seasonal soil-use operations (drainage, cultivation, irrigation, nutrient management etc.) modify material and energy flows, resulting transformation of the pedogenic processes at smaller or greater extent. When these processes are traceable, controllable, soil-use and soil quality remains sustainable and provide optimal condition to the conservation of water resources. Measurements to compare the options for utilizing soil resources and the risk of that particular utilization to soil degradation processes and linked water resources depletion need to be developed and integrated to land use allocation models.
    • a. Land use/management - changes of soil characteristics 
      The sustainability of land use can be achieved by the practical methods of soil management and can only be guaranteed if the material and energy flow associated with soil processes are controlled and positively influenced. This means the management and maintenance of certain level of soil characteristics. Site specific management options have to be assessed against the multiple criteria of sustainability, economic viability and ecological effects.
    • b. Carbon (sequestration) potentials through adaptive soil management – soil fertility Adaptive soil management relates to the differential management of a crop production system in an attempt to maximize production efficiency and to minimize the environmental risk. In relation to climate change it also entails the application of soil management and crop breeding techniques to enhance carbon level in soil. This is an optimization process of the input use and environmental qualities so that soil fertility (yield) gets maximized through the increase of its carbon content. The optimization operates by matching resource application and agronomic practices with soil attributes and crop requirements. As they vary across soil types, terrain conditions and also by crops, a systematic assessment is required.


  • 1. SEMINARS 
    The SEPLS is planning to hold open seminars to discuss targeted topics of interest. (For the priority fields to be discussed in the seminars see under ‘Priority topics’ heading.)
    Working groups are established to support the elaboration of the priority topics. Activities of the working groups are closely linked to each specific seminar.
    Publications are linked to the four functions of the Panel (see section II.: ‘Functions of the SEPLS’). As a derived product of each seminar the SEPLS is planning to publish a series of policy support documents on the identified priority topics.
    The Panel attempts to facilitate the design and elaboration of new research projects that bridge the knowledge gaps on issues related to land and soil resources in the EU and China


    - e.g. “Assessment of land and soil resources in China and Europe for food security” 
    - Proceedings of the seminars



The Driving forces - Pressures - State - Impact - Responses (DPSIR) framework can be used to explore the relations between human activities and the environment (see figure 2). The DPSIR is a slightly extended version of the well-known OECD-model and is used by EEA (2001) and other organisations to make assessments on and characterise the main environmental issues, such as climate change, acidification, soil degradation and wastes.


Figure 2. The DPSIR framework for reporting on environmental issues

The applicability of DPSIR framework for soil resources is introduced by Van Camp et al. (2004.) According to the systems analysis view of DPSIR framework, social and economic developments exert pressure on the environment and, as a consequence, the state of the environment changes. This leads to impacts on e.g. human health, ecosystems and materials that may elicit a societal response that feeds back on the driving forces, on the pressures or on the state or impacts directly, through adaptation or curative action.

From a policy point of view, there is a need for clear and specific information on all DPSIR elements. The DPSIR can be used for example, to identify sets of indicator to communicate the most relevant features of the environment and other issues included in the assessments and policy analyses. In order to meet this need, environmental indicators and policy analyses should reflect all elements of the chain between human activities, their environmental impacts, and the societal responses to these impacts.



Description of the Structure:

Luca Montanarella, Gergely Tóth Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre, European Commission Coordinator in Europe
Jaume Fons Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (European Topic Centre Land Use and Spatial Information) Mediterranean node
Stephen Nortcliff University of Reading West-European node
Tamás Kismányoky University of Pannonia East-European node
Mariam Akhtar-Schuster University of Hamburg (DesertNet International) Cooperation with DesertNet International
Winfried Blum BOKU, Vienna Integration of European soil science community


LI Xiubin Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences Coordinator in China
ZHANG Ganlin Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences Central-eastern node
WU Zhifeng, WEI Jianbing Guangdong Institute of Eco-environment and Soil Sciences South-eastern node
YANG Qingyuan Southwest University South-western node
LIU Guobin Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences Northwest Node
KONG Xiangbin China Agricultural University Northern node
  • 2. CO-CHAIRMEN :MONTANARELLA Luca (EU); SHEN Renfang (China)
       - In the EU: JRC-IES, Ispra, Italy. Contact:
       - In China: IGSNRR-CAS, Beijing, China. Contact:
  • 4. WORKING GROUPS (Temporary, adapted for specific task).
    Expertise from the following scientific areas is welcomed for nomination in Working Group 1 (Food Security): 
         - Water management
         - Urban land use planning
         - Agronomy, crop/livestock production
         - Land use modeling
         - Social science (related to land use)
         - Bioenergy
         - Life cycle analysis
  • 5. MEMBERSHIP (Open to EU and Chinese Experts)
         i. Membership / Network Development through Joint Web Portal (Mirror Sites to be maintaned by the Secretariats)
         ii. Free Expression of Interest with indicated competence areas and proposed activities 
         iii. Accession on invitation by the executive committee
         iv. Webportal explains the goals and functions of the Panel (Its Working Groups and the possible activities of the members)
  • 6. USER INTEREST GROUP (Potential Interested Institutions)

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