Soil degradation as big a threat as climate change

Published by Niall Sargent on

December 5th, 2018

The widespread degradation of soil across the world is as big a threat to our existence as climate change, a leading environmentalist warned today.

Speaking at the Soils for Society conference at University College Dublin, the coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, Michael Ewing, called for greater protection of our depleted soils.

The UCD conference was held to mark World Soil Day, held annually to focus attention on soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources.

Soil degradation now affects about one-third of the global land area with widespread consequences including soil erosion, desertification, nutrient loss, and pollution.

Mr Ewing pointed to the absolute need to protect our soils if we are to have any hope of feeding a growing world population that was a mere 2.5 billion when he went to school, is now over 7 billion and is expected to reach more than 10 billion by 2050.

3rd anniversary – Sustainable Development Goals. Call to Leave No One Behind

SDGs and Soil

He told the audience that healthy soil is crucial to the delivery of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), such as protection for all life on land, as well as an end to human hunger and poverty on the planet.

“Soil is a vibrant living substance which is vital for life on Earth,” Mr Ewing said.

“Each and every one of us totally depends on the four or five inches of soil around the globe for our very existence and we share this space with an estimated 2 billion other species that also rely on it too.

“Looking after our precious soils as an integrated part of the delivery of the SDGs must be a priority for all governments, local, national and regional,” Mr Ewing said.

Edible soil dish to promote the People4Soil Campaign Photo: Niall Sargent

Edible soil dish to promote the 2017 People4Soil Campaign Photo: Niall Sargent


Mr Ewing also highlighted the People4Soil campaign last year that received great support across Ireland from citizens asking the EU for regulations to protect the soil.

“Soil has scarce protection under the law as it stands,” he warned.

“If we take a stand today, we’ll be one step closer to limiting the damage soil destruction will do to our environment, our health, and our children’s futures,” he said.

The People4Soil campaign, led in Ireland by the Environmental Pillar, received over 9,100 signatures in Ireland before last week’s deadline, smashing Ireland’s official target of 8,250.

Ireland was also the first country to reach its national quota and achieved the second highest percentage tally behind only Italy.

GROW Observatory

The GROW Observatory – a European-wide project engaging thousands of GROWers, researchers and people passionate about land and soil – is taking a lead on spotlighting the importance of soil health in Ireland.

The Irish branch of GROW is mobilising enable people to act as citizen scientists and, using low cost soil sensors, collect data that can help validate climate prediction models from satellites.

This will help to forecast the frequency and intensity of extreme climate phenomena, like droughts, floods and heatwaves, the Irish branch says.

So far, citizen scientists in the GROW Communities have deployed 2,000 soil moisture sensors in the different GROW Places, setting views to 10,000 sensors in the coming year.

This is considered to be the largest soil moisture survey conducted by citizens across Europe.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London