On World Soil Day 2019, we’d like to take the opportunity to examine its role in our two most important Planetary Boundaries.
Soil holds 3 times as much carbon as the atmosphere, it reduces the risk of flooding by absorbing water, it is a wildlife habitat, and it delivers 95% of global food supplies. Unfortunately, it is a limited resource under pressure from climate change, population growth, urban development, waste, pollution, and the demand for more (and cheaper) food.
Soil biology is the engine of the Earth. One gram of soil can contain up to one million species. This ranges from micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes); meso-fauna (e.g. acari and springtails) to more familiar macro-fauna (e.g. earthworms and termites). This biological component of soil is fundamental for all life of Earth. Apart from growing our food, filtering our water and holding back floods, they regulate the climate and sustain wildlife.
Without the biological component of soils, no crops or trees would grow. Yet soil biodiversity is in grave danger. Climate change, land sealing, water and air erosion and the removal of carbon from soil are all combining to threaten this fauna.
Whilst, soil biodiversity is resilient; it is estimated that 90% of species may be lost without critically destroying soil, a knock-on effect still occurs. In the short-term, loss of soil fertility increases the risk of crop-failure and food insecurity. In the longer-term, a decline in soil biodiversity impacts the food chain, including insects, birds, mammals, the outcomes of which may take decades to understand and address.
The FAO has estimated that carbon stored in soils could be increased by 30–50 tonnes per hectare. One of the most effective ways to do this is through responsible soil stewardship and agriculture practices.
When assessing your corporate impact on climate change and biodiversity, ensure soil is a focus throughout your supply chain. Greater focus is needed to protect the health of our soils both for our food and for the climate.
For the corporate sector to play its part in the achievement of global climate change targets it must address its real impact on the planet’s resources and base reduction targets on what the world needs them to do.