Developing a Global Soil Regime
International Journal of Rural Law and Policy, Vol. 2015, No. 1, pp. 1-13, 2015
36 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2014 Last revised: 17 Aug 2015
Date Written: September 4, 2014
From the 1960s onwards, the global community became much more aware of the phenomena of air and water pollution and land contamination. Moreover, over the last three decades, the issues of climate change, loss of biodiversity, desertification, drought, and land degradation have become much more prominent. Each of these phenomena is often linked in one way or the other. However, while biodiversity loss and climate change have garnered close attention in the realm of international environmental law, soil, as the primary basis for all terrestrial biodiversity, has until recently been largely ignored in international fora and by national governments, and represents a substantial gap in global policy making and international legal instruments on the environment. Soil, as a vital biological resource demands attention on the same level as biological diversity and climate change. The effects of the increase in human population on the world, especially in terms of the decline in food and water security, indicates that soil has ecological limits and that these limits vary according to the variations within different ecosystems and cultural relationships with soil. There is an increasing imbalance in the production of food due to the difference in the rate of degradation of soils and their functions and the rate of their regeneration. The question of food security has gained extra focus with the appointment in 2014 of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
There is an urgent need to promote a change in attitude of those who work in relevant international institutions, as well as national government officials and legislators about the vital importance of soil. They need to be reminded that soil is a basic physical foundation of human development and plays a major role in sustaining all societies though agriculture, grazing, forestry and maintenance of water sources. To avoid the catastrophic effects of serious and widespread land degradation, national and international legal frameworks for the protection of land and soil are required that are based on a clear understanding of the technological, sociological, economic and ecological issues that affect soil. National and international environmental law regimes to promote the conservation and sustainable use of soils must be seen as an integral part of the overall framework of environmental law, policy and management. This article explores the elements that should form the basis of a global instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of soils and sets out the premise for the community of nations to support the negotiation and drafting of such an instrument. It does so in light of the recent discussion on the introduction of a specific provision in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on the question of land degradation and land degradation neutrality and the work of the United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, and the appointment in 2014 of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Keywords: Food security, land degradation, legal instrument, soil legislation, soil security, sustainable use of soils, zero net land degradation
JEL Classification: K10, K30, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation