UNESCO raises global alarm on the rapid degradation of soils

90 pc of world’s soil to be degraded by 2050

Environment

Society

July 2, 2024

/ By / Paris

UNESCO raises global alarm on the rapid degradation of soils

Soil plays a crucial role in sustaining life on Earth

Climate change, rising desertification and mounting pollution is leading to rapid acceleration in soil degradation around the world and in under 25 years, over 90 pc of the world’s soil would be degraded, warns UNESCO.

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In what could bring nightmares to farmers, politicians and agri-businesses all over the world, a new report warns that an overwhelming proportion of the planet’s top soil would be degraded by 2050.

The warning has come in a report released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which says that 90 pc of the planet’s land surface could be degraded by 2050, with major risks for biodiversity and human life. 

The warning came at an international conference in Agadir (Morocco), when Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, appealed to the Organisation’s 194 Member States to improve soil protection and rehabilitation. UNESCO is also undertaking a number of actions to fill the scientific knowledge gaps in this field.

Audrey Azoulay

Audrey Azoulay

“Soil plays a crucial role in sustaining life on Earth. Yet it is still often neglected or poorly managed. UNESCO is calling on the international community to make this a priority. With 60 years of experience in soil science, our Organisation will help States to advance knowledge and train professionals so that the necessary measures can be taken,” announced Azoulay at the UNESCO International Conference on Soils on Monday.

The statement adds that healthy soils are essential for maintaining ecosystems and biodiversity, regulating the climate, producing food and purifying water. However, according to the World Atlas of Desertification, 75 pc of them are already degraded, directly impacting 3.2 billion people. And if current trends continue, this proportion will rise to 90 pc by 2050.

Against this worrying backdrop, UNESCO and the Kingdom of Morocco’s National Agency for the Development of Oasis and Argan Zones (ANDZOA) organised the international conference on soil in Agadir, bringing together experts and representatives from over 30 countries. 

The discussions have led to an action plan based on three key objectives, namely improving soil protection and rehabilitation, filling the scientific knowledge gaps in this field and strengthening the commitment of young people and communities through education and training programmes.

A soil health index and a pilot programme

Health soil index will be a standardised measure for assessing and comparing soil quality across different regions (Photo: fao.org)

UNESCO says that it will support its Member States by establishing a ‘world soil health index’ in coordination with its international partners. This index will be a standardised measure for assessing and comparing soil quality across different regions and ecosystems. It will allow the identification of trends showing degradation or improvement, reveal which areas are most at risk, and enable better understanding the effectiveness of soil management practices.

In addition to this index, UNESCO will launch a pilot initiative for the sustainable management of soils and landscapes in around 10 natural sites that it helps to protect under its Biosphere Reserves programme. The goal will be twofold, to assess the effectiveness of the management methods implemented in these sites and to work to ensure that the best of these methods can be deployed in other regions of the world.

The statement adds that site managers will be encouraged to develop innovative soil conservation and land management projects. Training will be provided for them, as well as for members of government agencies, conservation organisations and indigenous communities, to give them as many tools as possible to protect this essential resource. This initiative will also include an educational component through which UNESCO will raise awareness and involve the younger generations.

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