US Studies Centre joins global soil crisis talks

1 May 2012

Members of the United States Studies Centre's Soil Carbon Initiative put their case for increased attention to global soil security at the United Nations in New York last week.

The group, led by the Centre's Professor in Sustainability Robert Hill, was part of an Australian government-hosted discussion during preparatory meetings for next month's Rio+20 Summit looking at sustainable development. Rio+20 marks 20 years since the 1992 Earth Summit also held in Brazil.

Hill chaired the 'Responding to the Global Soil Crisis' meeting on 24 April, which highlighted the threat that soil degradation poses for food security, fresh water supplies, biodiversity and climate mitigation. Also attending the meeting were Professor Alex McBratney, SCI researcher and director of the University's Precision Agriculture Laboratory, and Andrea Koch, head of the Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI). They were joined by international SCI scientist, Professor Rattan Lal from the University of Ohio, and by Dr Neil McKenzie, chief of CSIRO Land and Water.

In the lead-up to Rio+20, the group wants the UN to establish a panel of experts to report on what would be necessary to reverse soil degradation and achieve global soil security by 2050. This comes amid increasing concern among many agricultural scientists that topsoil is already disappearing faster than it's being replaced and may one day run out altogether. The implications for food security and the environment would be dire.

"With the world's population rising rapidly and soils being degraded globally, it's a double jeopardy situation," says Hill. "Returning carbon to soil will improve the health of soil, which will improve the productive capacity of agriculture globally and significantly address the twin challenges of food security and climate change."

The US Studies Centre's Soil Carbon Initiative was established in 2010 to focus on the benefits and policy implications of soil carbon sequestration and soil degradation. It is part of the Centre's Dow Sustainability Program.

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