The world, which is already reeling under severe food shortage, will see a worsened situation if soil pollution and waste proliferation are not taken care of. Widespread environmental degradation caused by soil pollution because of growing demands of agri-food and industrial systems has now become one of the world’s major challenges for ecosystem restoration, according to the Global Assessment of Soil Pollution.
Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme brought out the report on June 5, environment day. The report points out the future of global food production, human health and environment required an urgent global response.
Soil pollution crosses all borders and compromises the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. FAO Director-General QU Dongyu stressed the need for a co-ordinated response to address soil pollution and boost soil health to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. He said that soil protection has to be given utmost importance to ensure the success of future agri-food systems, ecosystem restoration and all lives on earth.
Meanwhile, UNEP Executive Director Inge Andersen called for stronger enforcement of global conventions on the environment as well as long-term monitoring to stop industrial pollution and sustainable practices in agriculture that supported the use of environmentally-friendly pesticides.
- Use of pesticides increased by 75 percent between 2000 and 2017 with some 109 million tonnes of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers applied worldwide in 2018.
- Use of plastics in agriculture increased significantly in recent decades with 7,08,000 tonnes of non-packaging plastic consumed in agriculture in the EU in 2019.
- Global annual production of industrial chemicals doubled to approximately 2.3 billion tonnes since the beginning of the 21ST century and is projected to increase by 85 percent by 2030.
- Waste production also on the rise. The world currently produces 2 billion tonnes of waste annually and predicted to rise to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050 due to population growth and urbanization.
- Industrial activities
- Waste treatment
- Extraction and processing of fossil fuels
- Emissions from transportation
ENVIRONMENTAL, HUMAN HEALTH AND SOCIAL ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF SOIL POLLUTION
- Soil pollution causes reduced crop yields and food wastage
- It leads to land degradation and inability to use the land for productive, residential and recreational uses. This leads to land abandonment and a depreciation of the price of adjacent land.
- Pollution of the soil relates to intake of low concentrations of multiple contaminants throughout one’s lives
- It has the greatest impact on the health of the most vulnerable population groups, such as foetuses, children and pregnant women.
URGENT ACTION TO SLOW THE TREND
The FAO-UNEP assessment predicted soil and environmental pollution would continue to deteriorate unless there was a shift in production and consumption patterns and a stronger political commitment.
Way forward: The first and foremost action against soil pollution is prevention. All stakeholders must take decisive steps in the prevention of soil pollution, starting with small actions in people’s consumption decisions and extending to the development of stringent policies and incentives that encourage industrial innovation and the adoption of environmentally sound technologies,
Actions to fill knowledge gaps: Harmonise standard operating procedures for laboratory methods of soil contaminants analysis and develop standardized threshold levels of soil pollution.
- Promote the inclusion of pollution into conventional soil surveys and the inclusion of data and information on soil pollution into national and global soil information systems.
- Promote establishment of Global Soil Pollution Information and Monitoring System. Increase investment in targeted research and innovation on emerging contaminants: detection, fate in the environment, risks assessment and remediation.
- Develop and strengthen inventory and monitoring of point-source and diffuse soil pollution at national, regional and global levels.
- Establish and strengthen national biomonitoring and epidemiological surveillance systems to identify, assess, and monitor damage and diseases attributable to soil pollution and support preventive actions.
- Strengthening legislative frameworks and technical actions;
- Enforce compliance with international agreements on chemicals, persistent organic pollutants, waste, and sustainable soil management
- Establish a system of incentives and recognition to stop soil pollution, including eco-labelling or compliance to schemes like the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management by providing labelling to agriculture products implementing
- Advocate for a global commitment towards preventing, halting and re-mediating pollution in the framework of Zero Pollution/Towards a Pollution Free Planet ambitions, using regional efforts and targets such as the European Green Deal as a basis.
- Improve national and international regulations on emissions from industry and mining and promote environmentally friendly industrial processes.
- Develop and promote “right to repair” policies and de-incentivize planned obsolescence of manufactured materials to reduce waste, including e-waste.
- De-incentivize and reduce single-use items, particularly in packaging for materials and foodstuffs.
- Implement appropriate waste collection and green management policies that promote recycling and ensure the adequate treatment of different types of waste within and among countries
- Promote and incentivize the use of sustainable transport.
- Implement policies aimed at sustainable management of agricultural soils with a special focus on reducing dependence on agrochemicals and controlling the quality of irrigation water and organic residues.
Scale up nature-based and environmentally sound sustainable management and remediation technologies
Improving awareness and communication;
- Launch global awareness raising campaign on pollution aimed at the general public for them to understand why pollution of the soil atters to all and how they could be part of the solution.
- Promote efforts and choices that are “pollution-free” for citizens to select when choosing agricultural, forestry, or any other products.
- Foster citizen science activities and citizen observatories to improve early warning systems and community-based pollution monitoring.
- Promote public awareness of responsible and environmentally friendly consumption and encourage separation at source and the waste hierarchy, in particular the 4R approach (reduce, reuse, recycle and recover).
- Advocate for the inclusion of soil health and pollution topics for general studies at schools and institutions of higher education.
- Fostering international cooperation and pollution of the soil monitoring networks: Facilitate the transfer of scientific knowledge through international events and promote the publication of information in open access sources,
- Advocate for technology transfer and cross-capacity building for the whole cycle of pollution of soil, from prevention to detection, monitoring, management, and remediation, from regions and countries with high expertise and experience on pollution to developing countries with less or no expertise in the topic.
- Build and strengthen transboundary monitoring networks to prevent, manage, and remediate diffuse pollution.
- Establish a global training programme for developing capacities on the full cycle of pollution of the soil.
The report noted that greater research is required to determine the extent of pollution of the soil while stressing the proliferation of organic contaminants and others such as harmaceuticals, antimicrobials (that lead to more resistant bacteria), industrial chemicals, and plastic residues are of growing concern.
The global assessment indicated the remediation of polluted soils is complex and costly, and emphasized the need for prevention to prevent a worsening situation. It called for the establishment of a Global Soil Pollution Information and Monitoring System, stronger legal frameworks for preventing and remediating polluted soils, and initiatives to foster technical cooperation and capacity development.