10 May 2018
Inaugural Symposium Launches Global Campaign to Tackle Soil Pollution
Photo Credit: Lynn Wagner
story highlights

The inaugural Global Symposium on Soil Pollution (GSOP18) launched the 'Be the Solution to Soil Pollution' global campaign.

The GSOP18 outcome document will summarize scientific evidence and data presented, as well as ideas for overcoming existing challenges and future steps, and serve as a road map for the global campaign.

The FAO synthesis report, ‘Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality,’ warns that pollution poses a worrisome threat to agricultural productivity, food safety, and human health.

4 May 2018: The launch of a global campaign titled ‘Be the Solution to Soil Pollution’ is one of the main outcomes of the inaugural Global Symposium on Soil Pollution (GSOP18), which convened from 2-4 May 2018, at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) in Rome, Italy. Ahead of the meeting, FAO published a synthesis report of existing scientific research titled, ‘Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality,’ warning that pollution poses a worrisome threat to agricultural productivity, food safety, and human health, but “far too little is known about the scale and severity of that threat.”

Around 500 soil experts, policy makers and other stakeholders attended the GSOP18, which was co-organized by FAO’s Global Soil Partnership (GSP) and Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment), the Secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS Conventions Secretariat), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Symposium aimed to contribute to implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by serving as a platform to assess the latest information on the status, trends, and actions on soil pollution.

Participants assessed the status of soil pollution worldwide and explored options for its prevention as well as remediation. Specific themes included: the impact of agricultural fields and other land uses; the impact of soil pollution on food production and safety, the environment and overall human well-being; remediation of polluted sites; and developing policies and setting thresholds for addressing soil pollution and the global status of soil pollution.

The FAO synthesis report found, inter alia, that: production of chemicals has grown rapidly in recent decades and is projected to increase annually by 3.4 percent until 2030; in 2015, the European chemical industry produced 319 million tons of chemicals, of which nearly half were deemed hazardous to the environment; and levels of persistent organic pollutants in human milk are significantly above those considered safe, with a higher incidence in India and in some European and African countries. The report also raised concern about a near-doubling of the amount of manure left on pasture, which can contain high amounts of heavy metals, pathogen organisms and antibiotics. Other sources of soil pollution highlighted in the report include approximately 110 million mines or other unexploded pieces of ordnance that are scattered across 64 countries on all continents, and high concentrations of radionuclides in “almost all soil in the northern hemisphere.”

Ongoing GSP initiatives to track the global status of soil pollution were highlighted, notably the 2015 Status of the World’s Soil Resources report, and the 2017 Global Assessment of the Impact of Plant Protection Products on Soil Functions and Soil Ecosystems, which is one of the follow up actions to the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management that were adopted by the GSP in 2016. The role of the BRS Conventions in coordinating the phase-out of persistent organic pollutants (POPs); production of global norms for sound environmental management; and fostering partnerships with stakeholders was highlighted. The meeting also discussed the implementation of the 2017 UN Environment Assembly Resolution on soil pollution.

Building on diverse national and regional case studies of soil pollution featured at the meeting, participants highlighted organic compounds and emerging contaminants as one of the main challenges. They called for a global assessment of soil pollution that includes modeling chemical production and emissions, prioritizes highly contaminated sites, and assesses, at country level, the main contaminants and impacts. The importance of developing accessible technologies to assess soil pollution was also emphasized.

During the closing session, the GSP Secretariat announced plans to establish two working groups to continue work on some of the key issues addressed at the Symposium. The two groups will focus, respectively, on developing guidelines for assessing, mapping, monitoring and reporting on soil pollution, and managing soil pollution. ITPS and its partners are developing an outcome document from the Symposium that will summarize the scientific evidence and data presented, as well as ideas for overcoming existing challenges and future steps, that will serve as a road map for the ‘Be the solution to soil pollution’ campaign and other future actions.

The GSP was established under FAO in 2012 as a mechanism to develop an interactive partnership and enhanced collaboration between all stakeholders, to improve the governance of and promote sustainable soil management. The ITPS was established at the first GSP Plenary Assembly in 2013 and is composed of 27 top soil experts from all regions. Its main function is to provide scientific and technical advice on global soil issues to the GSP and to specific requests by global or regional institutions.

The Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management were adopted by the 4th GSP Plenary Assembly and endorsed by the 155th session of the FAO Council in 2016. They provide technical and policy recommendations on achieving sustainable soil management. [IISD RS Summary Report of GSOP18] [GSOP18 Website] [FAO Press Release on Synthesis Report] [FAO Synthesis Report: Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Adoption of Voluntary Guidelines on Sustainable Soil Management] [Global Soil Partnership Website]

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