Soil protection at international level

desiccated soilClick to enlarge
Desiccated soil
Source: magdal3na /

Table of Contents



The need for fertile soils is increasing due to the growing global demand for renewable raw materials and meat, and persistent population growth. At the same time, we are seeing a loss of fertile, healthy soils as a result of degradation processes such as erosion, salinisation and contamination. It is estimated that as much as 20-25% of global soil resources is degraded, i.e. has a reduced functional capacity. Soil degradation is an ongoing process which affects an additional 5-10 million hectares each year (for comparison, Austria has an area of 8.4 million hectares). Soil degradation across the world will therefore jeopardize global food security in the long run and deprive rural regions in particular of one of their main sources of income and economic development. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has stated that 1.5 billion people, i.e. more than a fifth of the global population, are already directly affected by soil degradation today. Soil degradation is a global phenomenon. That is why in 2011 the German Environment Agency, together with international institutions such as the Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), issued a call for action demanding a coordinated global approach to soil protection.


The Rio+20 Conference and the concept of a “land degradation neutral world”

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (Rio+20 Conference), Heads of State and Government pledged to strive for a “land degradation neutral world”.

This means that in the future net soil loss through e.g. erosion, sealing and other forms of soil degradation must be balanced out by soil restoration. Since soil degradation cannot be prevented completely, it must at least be minimized and non-avoidable soil degradation must be offset by restoration and rehabilitation measures.

This declaration of intent must now be implemented at global, regional and national level.

degradation neutrality Concept
Degradation neutrality Concept

Der Verlust von Böden durch Bodendegradation muss minimiert und nicht vermeidbare Bodendegradation muss durch Wiederherstellungsmaßnahmen ausgeglichen werden.

Source: Knut Ehlers / UBA

Global sustainable development goals (SDGs)

Like the ‘land degradation neutrality’ concept, the sustainable development goals are an outcome of the 2012 Rio+20 Conference. The SDGs aim at sustainable global development on a social, ecological and economic basis. In particular, Goal 15 “Life on Land” promotes sustainable use of land and soils and the reversal of land degradation:

„Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.

The German Environment Agency supports the implementation process of the SDGs relevant to soils by specific research activities. 

It has been explored what methodological options exist for making soil degradation measurable at global level. Furthermore, soil organic carbon and its potential as globally relevant indicator for land and soil degradation has been investigated. Currently, options for the implementation of “land degradation neutrality” are being analyzed in a further research project.  


Monitoring and assessment

Information forms the basis for political decisions. Especially important is information on soil degradation trends and drivers. However, obtaining such information comes up against numerous obstacles. This is compounded by the problem that opinions differ on what soil degradation may be. Practicable and informative solutions need to be found to address this.



The implementation of international soil protection, and of the goal of a “land degradation neutral world” in particular, requires legal instruments at both national and international level. The stipulations of international law in this regard are insufficient so far. Proposals (“best practices”) must also be developed for implementation at national level. read more 

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 soil degradation  land degradation neutrality  soil protection  environmental sustainability