A time for conferences

a) European Commission – Green Week 2017 and EU Development Days 2017-06-30

The “differently young people” (alias over 60 years old!) will remember how back in the day, in Italy, on urban public transport there used to be signs saying ‘Please do not speak to the driver’.

Those who took part in Green Week 2017 organized by DG ENVI of the EU Commission – from 29 May to 2 June – will confirm that nobody was allowed to “speak to the driver” there either, or better “speak to the representatives from the Commission”. The driver keeps on “driving” whilst passengers must sit on the back and talk amongst themselves, even though they may have interesting news or experiences to share with all and in particular with the “drivers”.

The very platform for Green Week broke apart over the past two years. A place of encounters and discussions, where over 2000 participants were the most important ‘entity’ of the “green” week, has now turned into a meeting with generic, recycled and fruitless statements being uttered and merely listened to. There used to be debates with thousands of people exchanging ideas, proposals and experiences. All spaces of the location, including corridors cafés and refectories, were a whirlwind of discussions and exchanges. Even the various representatives – the Commissioners, and civil servants – were urged to listen to concrete experiences, and “self-celebration” was very rare. Those attending would at the end of the day feel enriched with the ideas and contacts made.

Now all is dispersed all over Europe, and this means the “drivers” are always present – without any real confrontation, but simply issuing the same statements as ten years back, and that will have the same validity in ten years time – to show that European environmental policy and research are responding to the demands of investments and economic productivity.

But should it not be the opposite? Shouldn’t investments and the creation of jobs necessarily have to be compatible with environmental policy choices?

Unfortunately the result of Green Week 2017 was losing credibility on European environmental protection, even though the EU was set as an example worldwide for its environmental policy! As we await for different “drivers” and for the Commission to respond to the all-the-more urgent expectations coming from European and overseas people, it took that alien of a newly elected president of the United States for us to realize how the EU is at the forefront in all aspects of environmental protection. It is thanks to him and his refusal that on 11 and 12 June the Ministries of the Environment of the G7 met in Bologna to renew environmental protection efforts and climate-change combat, confirmed/signed by the other six participants and the European Commissioner for climate change.

The abovementioned is a “cry of pain”, but not of powerlessness. Whenever the Commission is willing, it is able to decently organize events based on real and constructive participation. An example of this is the EDD17 – European Development Days 2017 (7 and 8 June) – entitled Investing in Development: two full days with around 8000 (eight thousand!) participants, over 120 debates and conferences, with a Global Village placed in the middle of the venue. Soil also received a great deal of attention with stands and conferences of the Joint Research Centre, the CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development), and the 4 per 1000 initiative.

b) The Global Soil Week 2017 and CONSOWA

Global Soil Week (GSW 2017) was held in Berlin from 22 to 24 May 2017. After the ones held in 2012, 2013 and 2015 this was the fourth meeting on soil organised by IASS-Potsdam (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies) jointly with the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development).  This year the event focused on ‘Catalysing SDG[1] Implementation Through a Soil and Land Review’. Around 300 participants attended three thematic workshops to explore the following topics: ‘Sustaining and upscaling achievements of sustainable land management (SLM) initiatives’; ‘Right to (defend) land: strengthening accountability at the local level through thematic reviews’; and ‘Protecting land resources for shared prosperity.’

There are five key messages to work on, and present to the highest political authorities:

1) Increase investments in sustainable land management and responsible governance. It will be critical to design investments and monitor them in line with international human rights-based instruments, such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and internationally accepted environmental and social safeguards;

2) Make the entire production chain sustainable and change consumption patterns which have an impact on land degradation both locally and in other parts of the world. High-consuming segments of society have a particular responsibility in this regard;

3) Enhance spatial planning and adopt territorial approaches to address the rural-urban continuum in an integrated way that contributes to food security and the sustainable and the integrated management of natural resources, such as the land-water nexus; as well as to improving regional value chains to offer better opportunities for the youth.

4) Improve land rights and land tenure, especially for vulnerable and marginalised groups, and acknowledge that vulnerable populations are rights holders, whose rights need to be upheld. This implies adopting specific measures to protect civil society, since human rights are under pressure from the shrinking space for civil society; and

5) Build a bridge between SDG 2 (Zero hunger) and SDG 15 (Life on land) to ensure food security through avoiding, reducing and reversing soil and land degradation to achieve SDG target 15.3 on land degradation neutrality, and sustainably managing landscapes for people. Entry points for this are community empowerment, and high-quality and accountable extension services that embrace the youth and open data access.

If GSW is able to act as a link between the academic world, civil society and the political world, the conference in Lleida, Spain (12-16 June) allowed for scientific comparisons between water and soil conservation specialists. We cite it because it is the first world conference, which gathered researchers and technicians for both soil and water, entities currently at risk due to climate change difficulties. The main aim of this conference, the acronym for which is CONSOWA (1st World Conference On Soil And Water Conservation Under Global Change), is to create sustainability on earth via soil and water conservation.

[1] SDG: Sustainable Development Goals

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Other European states’ experiences: Soil scientists are often disregarded “Cassandras”

Our newsletter purposely avoids scientific topics related to soil, because we would especially like to address so-called “non-experts”. At the same time, these last understand how important soil, territory and landscape are for our future and for future generations. Thus, they believe it is no longer time to stay back but rather act on it.

This does not mean that our “intellectual humus” comes from the constant yet silent work from a large number of soil researchers. Some readers have sent us information on ongoing or recently terminated research suggesting more awareness raising on them via our newsletter. We would therefore like to mention briefly two European research projects and the article entitled Climate-smart soils, from the Nature edition of 7 April 2016

SmartSoil Project

The growing lack of organic matter such as carbon is among the most alarming problems affecting soil. People all over the world are looking for solutions bearing in mind that fertilizers and pesticides will not be able to escape the demands of agricultural production. Continua a leggere “Other European states’ experiences: Soil scientists are often disregarded “Cassandras””