The report on the Conference on the Soil of 25 November 2019 – Soil and the SDGs: challenges and need for action – has now been published. We invite all to read this excellent summary of the discussions and speeches. Here we want to concentrate on the two pages of recommendations: on their own they could be regarded as the programme to be inserted into the GDE planning which as yet does not pay much attention to the soil.
There are four chapters listing the actions to be undertaken. Let us read carefully what is proposed.
How should we act?
- Soil and land legislation and policy
- Environmental policy in general has never been so high on the agenda. The Commission has planned to protect soil and land through actions like the Zero Pollution Ambition, Farm to Fork Strategy, and the Biodiversity Strategy 2030, and the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This presents an opportunity to focus on soil.
- The European Green Deal and forthcoming 8th Environmental Action Plan provide the opportunity to address soil and land-related SDGs, notably to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality in the EU.
- Evaluate and update existing policies and each new initiative/project/ subsidy for their impact on all SDGs involved in possible trade-offs.
- Design enabling legislation to allow transition (e.g. true pricing).
- Create coherent legislation that addresses different contexts.
- Soil management should not only be aimed at agricultural soils but at all soils.
- There is a need to update sustainable development plans and strategies to incorporate the SDGs.
- Science, data, methodologies
- Scientific evidence will not influence policy unless the interests of all the stakeholders involved are taken into account.
- The entire chain must be considered, from land management to consumer behaviour.
- We need good data and insight into costs and benefits.
- Work for more knowledge and better measurements – do not wait for full information before starting to act.
- All stakeholders need to be involved in the implementation of actions in practice – including policy-makers at all levels, scientists, CSOs, the private sector and direct land users such as farmers.
- Land degradation neutrality can act as an accelerator and integrator for achieving the SDGs.
- There is a need for concrete methods to guide people, especially with regard to transitional change. Good examples (lighthouses) need to be region-specific.
- Identify and share good practices by environmental (pedoclimatic) zones, searching for a profitable solution and considering all main SDGs involved.
- Nature-based solutions should be supported as they offer significant synergies – for instance, they may contribute to 30% of climate mitigation.
- Maximising resource efficiency (using agroecology principles).
- Communication and awareness
- There is a need to raise awareness, as all levels of society need to understand that soil and land degradation is an important issue. Everything we enjoy comes from land, we all depend on land, we are a terrestrial species.
- We can build on the momentum on climate and biodiversity for soil and land – it is not necessary to create a new movement. Rather, we should start from food or climate and show the link to land and soil.
- Learn to communicate about soil: Attract, Interest, Desire, Action.
- Connect with young people.
- The European example may become a standard in the world.
If it is encouraging to read these statements, at the same time they are rather perplexing. We cannot continue to try and satisfy everyone. In order to work, a builder must know they cannot any longer build on farmland or woodland. Immediately means now, not in 10 years or in 2050. These “brave” assertions must be matched by equal courage from soil experts and above all from the EU institutions.
The complete Report is available here in PDF: https://www.soil-conference.org/