In 2015, the Global Soil Week highlighted how sustainable soil management and responsible land governance is key to the post-2015 development agenda and the ongoing negotiations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first day of the Global Soil Week 2015 was dedicated to the link between soils and land and the goals and targets of the new sustainable development agenda. On the second day we started addressing questions of implementation, monitoring and accountability of the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs. While the SDGs have been developed largely in isolation from each other, the third day explored an integrated approach to the SDGs.
Since the first Global Soil Week 2012, its partners have been putting certain themes on the agenda. These themes appeared as cross-cutting themes that were addressed on different days of the Global Soil Week in different session formats. Partners of the Global Soil Week continue to work on these themes between the Global Soil Weeks to contribute to political processes towards sustainability in soil management and land governance. They constitute the process element of the Global Soil Week.
Theme I: Land Degradation Neutral World
During the Rio+20 conference, UN member states committed themselves to “strive to achieve a land degradation neutral world”. The results of the Open Working Group negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect this commitment. Since 2012 and together with partners, the IASS has continued to work on operationalising the concept. For those involved in this process, it is particularly important to acknowledge the interrelations of achieving a land degradation neutral world and responsible and equitable land governance systems. Another important outcome of this process is our emphasis on soil rehabilitation that is covered by other sessions of the third Global Soil Week.
The Global Soil Week 2015 emphasised three aspects of the topic.
Firstly, the Global Soil Week emphasised the importance of combating land degradation to achieve other globally agreed policy objectives, such as mitigating and adapting to climate change. We also addressed the likely land use change implications inherent in the SDGs. Looking at the SDGs from a land use perspective, we asked: How sustainable are the Sustainable Development Goals?
Relevant Sessions: Dialogue Session 1.2 + Dialogue Session 1.6
Secondly, we explored questions surrounding the implementation of the SDGs on national level. In particular, we emphasised questions of monitoring, review and accountability.
Relevant Sessions: Dialogue Session 2.1 + Dialogue Session 3.7 + Open Space Session 4.7
Last but not least, we were exploring the question of indicators and soil information.
Relevant Sessions: Dialogue Session 2.3 + Dialogue Session 3.3
Theme II: Land Governance
The competition for increasingly scarce soil resources warrants responsible land governance to protect the needs of the world´s most vulnerable citizens. The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) are a historical milestone to strengthen responsible governance of land and natural resources at national and international level. Negotiated in an inclusive multi-stakeholder process, the VGGT were endorsed in 2012 by the Committee on World Food Security. Since then, contributing to the uptake of the VGGT, within the broader context of translating rights into practice, has been a central objective of the Global Soil Week. At the Global Soil Week 2015, the following activities were central for the work process on land governance and especially for the implementation of the VGGT:
A Dialogue Session served as a platform for sharing lessons learned and discussing strategies and ways forward for the implementation and monitoring of the VGGT by states, international governmental organisations, private actors, and civil society organisations.
Relevant Session: Dialogue Session 3.1
A second contribution was a case study from Madagascar that maps the extent of large-scale land investments. Furthermore, three working groups met back-to-back to the Global Soil Week in order to discuss and review three technical guides that were at this point developed to increase the uptake of the VGGT: a Technical Guide on Commons (IASS), a Technical Guide for the Private Sector (FAO), and a Guide on Aligning the Lending Practice of German Financial Cooperation with the VGGT (DIMR and IASS).
Theme III: Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and soil rehabilitation
Soil and land degradation poses a serious threat to ecosystem services and to the livelihoods of the most vulnerable groups around the globe: 1.5 billion people depend on degrading land for their livelihoods and 42 percent of the very poor live in degraded areas. Sustainable land management (SLM) is key for both the production of goods for human consumption as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation. Preventing and reversing land degradation though sustainable land management and land rehabilitation has thus been a major concern of the soil and land community for a long time. In 2015, the following sessions and contributions focused on SLM and soil rehabilitation:
Relevant Sessions: Dialogue Session 1.4 + Dialogue Session 1.8 + Dialogue Session 2.4 + Dialogue Session 3.5 + Open Space Session 4.2
Theme IV: Transformation through Transdisciplinarity?
Soils require a systemic view. Complex interactions determine whether this resource is used in a sustainable way or not. It is crucial to analyse and understand these interactions in their full dimension in order to sustain the fundamental role that the world’s soil and land resources play in protecting our climate, to securing the nutrition of nine billion people and stopping the persistent loss of the planet’s biodiversity. The idea of the Global Soil Week as a collective process and an inclusive platform is based on the concept of transdisciplinarity. At the heart of this research and working approach lies the long-term exchange and cooperation of different experts, stakeholders and interest groups from politics, science, civil society, economics and art in developing a holistic understanding of a complex problem. This serves as a basis to identify new approaches to address soil and land related challenges to sustainable development. At the Global Soil Week 2015, the role of the transdisciplinary approach in finding joint pathways towards a more sustainable use of soils and a responsible governance of land was discussed in different Dialogue Sessions and Lunch Break Fora and was part of the discussion at the Plenary Session “The Way Forward” on Wednesday afternoon.
Relevant Sessions: Dialogue Session 1.6 + Dialogue Session 2.2
Theme V: Awareness raising and soil communication
Soil is essential for food security, water availability, mitigation of climate change and other ecosystem services. Yet, policymakers often do not take crucial soil functions into consideration. Likewise, general public awareness of the issues of soil and land are necessary to create a societal mandate and momentum for change. Thus outreach and communication of soil and land issues is a very important aspect of transforming the current unsustainable use of soil and land. The United Nations has pronounced 2015 as the International Year of Soils. The Global Soil Week sees this as a special opportunity to increase soil awareness among diverse stakeholder groups and the general public. How can we communicate the vital role that soils play in sustainable development, and our own well-being? How can we create compelling stories to transport the messages? Varied approaches and perspectives from different stakeholder communities around the globe were discussed and presented at 2015’s Global Soil Week.
Relevant Sessions: Dialogue Session 2.6 + Open Space Session 4.1
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Please download the programme here.
Global Soil Week 2015 report by the IISD
The third Global Soil Week convened in Berlin, Germany, from 19-23 April 2015 was on the theme “Soil. The Substance of Transformation.”. It brought together 600 scientists, policy makers and practitioners from 80 countries. The reporting service of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) documented the event and made available daily reports (for Monday 20th, Tuesday 21th, Wednesday 22th and Thursday 23th April 2015) as well as a comprehensive event report. Please download the report here. For the reports on the IISD website, please click here.
This document presents the conclusions by the chairman of the Global Soil Week, Prof. Dr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam. Please read the conclusions here.
Watch all plenaries of the Global Soil Week 2015 here.
Session summary videos
Session 1.7 + 2.5 - Economics of land degradationEconomics of land degradation – how to integrate economic arguments into decision making processes?
Land degradation is undermining global food security and negatively affecting the livelihoods of billions of people. The consequences of land degradation are substantial and far-reaching, from reduced crop and livestock productivity and production, to huge losses in the essential ecosystem services derived from land.
Session 2.2 - Sustaining our soils and societies: the challenge of doing transdisciplinary researchSoils and land resources are under threat. At the same time, the role in soils and land for climate change, biodiversity, food security and poverty reduction is increasingly acknowledged up in global political spheres, as evidenced by the current process to negotiate the Post-2015 Development Agenda. However, the way in which soil and land problems are addressed by society is often characterised by separating and fragmenting issues that should be addressed from a holistic perspective. In the efforts towards a more sustainable development, the concept of transdisciplinarity has gained importance and is now entering scientific, political, and economic spheres.
Session 2.6 - Soils and societal commitment: moving towards healthy soilsBoth developed and developing countries are battling with a legacy of land contamination issues, often unknowingly. Even though contamination may be present, people remain on the land where they produce food and drink water, since they are either unaware of the contamination or cannot afford to move to healthier areas. While these issues may differ from country to country, the detection and monitoring of the extent of it are of utmost importance to human and environmental health. The session will illustrate the effect of soil pollution on human and environmental health in South Africa and the use of bio-indicators as an alternative, more affordable pollution detection method. It will then focus on the challenges and opportunities associated with gathering existing data and making it publicly available for decision-making in Belgium. A discussion will conclude the session on ideas for the way forward and the establishment of Soil Health Centres for monitoring and improving soil quality.
Session 2.8 - Vulnerable landscapes – vulnerable societiesVulnerable landscapes – vulnerable societies: the role of grass and grazing livestock in building resilience to climate change
Soil degradation is a global problem affecting rangeland and cropland alike. Up to two billion people directly depend on grazing livestock for their food security and livelihood in drylands. Vulnerable landscapes equal vulnerable societies, not just in the Global South but also in developed countries with temperate climates. Pastoralism and mixed crop and livestock farming are in decline. Yet grazing livestock and an understanding of soil biological life hold the key to rebuilding soil fertility, productivity and resilience into the distant future.
Session 3.1 - Three years of VGGT – experiences and strategies for implementation and monitoringThere is now an international consensus and agreed normative standard for what responsible, human rights-based land governance should look like – the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT). The strength of these guidelines rests not only on the unanimous adoption by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), but also on the unique and inclusive process that preceded the negotiations.
Session 3.2 - Tools and approaches to increasing supply-chain sustainability of land-based commoditiesTools and approaches to increasing supply-chain sustainability of land-based commodities: what works on paper and what works in practice?
Identifying and exploiting leverage points to improve the sustainability of the international trade in these commodities is one of the most critical sustainable development challenges we face in the twenty-first century. Given the complex geographies, teleconnections and interdependencies that define contemporary global trade, this is no easy task.
Session 3.3 - Soil and land indicators for the international policy agenda: towards joint actionLand and soil issues are key elements in achieving several of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), such as food security, and protecting biodiversity and climate. Particularly, the issue of land degradation requires substantiation in term of definition and indicators. For this it is crucial to provide input into existing and new initiatives to assess the status and trends of global land and soil degradation.
Session 3.4 - Building a knowledge and innovation platform [...]Building a knowledge and innovation platform on diffuse and point soil contamination as a base for (inter)national soil policies
The objective of this session is to exchange on soil contamination caused by point and diffuse pollution as a mean to contribute to the “Zero net Land degradation” sustainable development goal for Rio+20″, including food security for the year 2030.