Soil Biodiversity and Soil Organic Carbon: Why Should Nations Invest In It To Keep Drylands Alive?
Photo courtesy of Graciela Metternicht
story highlights

Soil biodiversity and soil organic carbon are an important foundation of a broad range of ecosystem services across all four standard ecosystem service categories.

Drylands encompass some of the world’s most important land use systems and significant biological diversity.

Governments should aim at protecting and promoting the multi-functionality of land to ensure that land users employ sustainable approaches that are measured against the delivery of multiple goods and services.

The 2018 World Day to Combat Desertification calls to reflect on the true value of land and the need to invest in it; healthy soils are central to sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development increases the demand on soils to provide food, water and energy security, protect biodiversity, and mitigate climate change, increasing the centrality of soils in global environmental and development politics. SDG target 15.3, on Land Degradation Neutrality, reflects the growing awareness that land, and by extension soil biodiversity and soil organic carbon, is both a natural resource and a public good that underpins wider sustainable development.

Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) and soil biodiversity are key to the multifunctionality of a landscape, and the reason why strengthening investment and legislation in sustainable land management is considered to be central to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Carbon Sequestration: The Underestimated Value of Drylands

Drylands possess a high potential for increased carbon sequestration and some organisations refer to drylands as carbon sequestration “bright spots.” Although there are remaining questions over the best practice in each location, drylands should be considered key areas for investments in sustainable management of carbon stocks. Such investments need to be actively managed to restore, preserve and increase their soil organic carbon levels and foster their sequestration potential.

Drylands encompass some of the world’s most important land use systems and significant biological diversity.

Drylands offer greater possibilities for carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation than is widely acknowledged. They cover a large part of the earth and a significant proportion of the land has lost SOC through land degradation processes. Dryland restoration and rehabilitation offer globally important opportunities for carbon sequestration. However, conventional approaches to restoration often need to be adapted to the local conditions of drylands, while both policies and investments need to be supported by improved data on existing and potential SOC levels.

Forward Looking: Invest to Conserve Land-based Natural Capital

Government strategies are needed to guide investments in drylands by local land users, private companies and other stakeholders, in order to fulfil their public responsibility for protecting and promoting the multifunctionality of land. Investments in soil biodiversity and soil organic carbon in the drylands can yield significant returns due both to the number and value of the co-benefits, and the large surface area of land involved. However, investments need to be tailored towards delivering multi-functionality at scale rather than maximising single goods or services.

For good governance of our shared land resources, governments should aim at protecting and promoting the multi-functionality of land to ensure that land users employ sustainable approaches that are measured against the delivery of multiple goods and services. Achieving this goal requires priority measures:

  1. Evaluate land management against the sustainable delivery of multiple goods and services;
  2. Build on policies and legislation to enable scaling-up of sustainable land management and landscape restoration or rehabilitation;
  3. Enhance local governance mechanisms that support land users in sustainable land management practices;
  4. Strengthen land information to support landscape-scale planning and monitoring;
  5. Establish effective extension services that support land users to adopt sustainable land management practices; and
  6. Create enabling conditions for private investment in sustainable land management.

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