While none of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) focuses specifically on soil protection, healthy soils are a prerequisite for many of the 17 goals and 169 targets, particularly for food security (goal 2). From 22 to 24 May 2017 around 300 policymakers and stakeholders from the private sector, science, and civil society assembled at the fourth Global Soil Week to discuss options for ‘Catalysing SDG Implementation through a Land and Soil Review’. The aim was to formulate recommendations for the United Nations’ High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) , which is due to meet from 10 to 19 July.
In his keynote speech, Thomas Gass from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) argued that the public debate needs to home in more on the complex causes of land degradation. All too often politicians wait until problems become so serious that they have to come up with a quick fix. By showing how the different sustainable development goals are interlinked, soil and land specialists could enhance the expertise of the High-level Political Forum. Stefan Schmitz from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development said that the Global Soil Week can showcase how the review of the sustainable development goals can become a collective learning process.
The discussions produced five political messages, which GSW participants hope to bring to bear on the discussions of the High-level Political Forum:
- There is a need for greater investment in responsible land management and monitoring of progress in this area.
- Consumption and production patterns in countries with high levels of consumption have to change, because they cause land degradation in other parts of the world.
- When it comes to spatial planning, the rural-urban continuum – the consciousness that there are many intermediate stages between the categories ‘really urban’ and ‘really rural’ – must be addressed in an integrated way.
- Land tenure and land rights for vulnerable people can only be safeguarded by recognising that human rights are under pressure because of the shrinking space afforded to civil society.
- A bridge has to be built between SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG target 15.3 (achieving land degradation neutrality) to ensure food security by rehabilitating degraded soils and engaging in responsible land management.
During the closing plenary, the International Union of Soil Scientists (IUSS) presented Klaus Töpfer, the founding director of the IASS, with the IUSS Distinguished Service Award. Jochen Flasbarth from the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUB) honoured Töpfer’s commitment to protecting soils at regional, national, and international levels. He also praised his efforts to ensure that soils are considered in the UN sustainable development goals.
The fourth Global Soil Week was the last to be organised by the IASS. In future, the event will be coordinated by the TMG think tank founded by Klaus Töpfer and former IASS Senior Fellow Alexander Müller. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development will continue to sponsor the Global Soil Week.