AS early as 1980, UN’s Environmental Law Program encouraged and promoted the development of legislation in the field of soil conservation. Except for FAO’s Soil Charter (1981) and a few regional agreements, little has been done to address the use of soils on the basis of sound principles of resource management to enhance soil productivity, to prevent soil erosion and degradation and to reduce the loss of good farmlands to non-farming purposes.
The Soils Atlas 2015 identified various reasons for the increasing loss of land and soils, i.e. “cities and roads are spreading, heavy agricultural machinery compacts the ground, and pesticides and fertilizers decimate soil organisms. In addition, there is wind and water erosion.”
Specifically, agricultural production in many countries has not met the demand of the burgeoning population because of soil loss through accelerated degradation arising out of such processes as salinization, progressive leaching and acidification, loss of organic matter and of soil structure, waterlogging or by pollution from agricultural run-off resulting from the uncontrolled use of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals.
To start with, decision-making regarding soil should be based on both environmental and socio-economic considerations. In addition to urban planning and other land uses planning, countries should consider the effect on soils of other infrastructure planning such as tourist areas, roads and railways. Furthermore, agricultural planning must have soil conservation as an objective in addition to the provision of food security.
Gathering and exchange of data and information are especially important. Also indispensable is increased public awareness of the issues surrounding effective soils management so that communities and individuals can act sustainably and public participation in decision-making can be meaningful to prevent and resolve soil misuse.
The current preoccupation of countries of the world with natural disaster risk reduction brought to fore the urgent need for healthy soils vis-à-vis climate protection. Soils filter rainwater to provide clean drinking water and contribute to regulating the climate. Scientific information likewise reveal that the earth’s ground is the world’s largest carbon sink. It stores more carbon than all the world’s forests put together. After all, soils like water are the basis of life. Without fertile land, biodiversity loss cannot be halted, global warming cannot be mitigated and the people’s right to food cannot be fulfilled.
The 1986 ASEAN Agreement on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is particularly instructive. It calls for (1) “land use policies aimed at avoiding losses of vegetative cover, substantial soil losses, and damages to the structure of the soil;” (2) the control of “erosion, especially as it may affect coastal or freshwater ecosystems, lead to siltation of downstream areas such as lakes or vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs, or damage critical habitats, in particular that of endangered or endemic species;” and (3) the rehabilitation of soil “affected by mineral exploitation.”
Pending adoption as a basis for multilateral negotiations by UN member countries is a Draft International Covenant on Environment and Development with an Article 21 that says “ Parties shall ensure the conservation and where necessary the regeneration of soils for living systems by taking effective measures to prevent soil erosion, to combat desertification, to safeguard the processes of organic decomposition and to promote the continuing fertility of soils.”
2015 as the International Year of Soils could mark the beginning of the world’s attention to safeguard soils not only for food security and biodiversity conservation but for climate change protection as well.
Ambassador Amado Tolentino, Jr. participated in the formulation and progressive development of UNEPs Montevideo (Environmental Law) Programme as well as the Draft International Covenant on Environment and Development.