The UN Convention on Biological Diversity and Soils: Status and Future Options

The global loss of fertile soils is widely recognized as one of the most pressing environmental and social problems of the next decades. Against this backdrop, political action is urgently needed to promote the sustainable use and management of soil, both domestically and at the international level. While particularly international soil policy has been neglected for decades, land and soil degradation have started to gain some international political momentum in recent years.

This paper analyses how the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as a key multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) within international environmental law contributes to the international governance of sustainable soil use. Firstly, we give a brief overview of the international governance of soil sustainability to date, locating the role of the CBD in this context. Secondly, we elaborate on how the CBD deals with soil (biodiversity) issues—e.g., in its Strategic Plan and Aichi Targets, through principles for the sustainable use of biodiversity, the CBD’s Ecosystem Approach as well as the International Soil Biodiversity Initiative. In the discussion, we highlight the value and shortcomings of the soil topic under the CBD. We also develop options on how sustainable soil management could be strengthened within the CBD and through the CBD. We conclude that the CBD can indeed contribute to the political promotion of sustainable soil use but that presently there are few incentives for CBD parties to push the process forward. Also, to be effective, the CBD is dependent on meaningful progress in international politics on the broader topic of sustainable land use.