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The world’s soils “under great pressure,” says UN pollution report | Land

The world’s soils, which provide 95% of humanity’s food, are “under great pressure,” according to a UN report on soil pollution.

Soils are also the largest active reservoir of carbon, after the oceans, and are therefore crucial to combat the climate crisis. But the report said that industrial pollution, mining, agriculture and poor waste management are poisoning soils, and the “polluter pays” principle is absent in many countries.

Contaminants include metals, cyanides, DDT and other pesticides, and long-lasting organic chemicals such as PCBs, according to the report, making food and water unsafe, reducing the productivity of fields and damaging wildlife. . However, he said that most pollutant emissions that end up on the ground are not easily quantified and therefore the actual damage remains highly uncertain.

Global production of industrial chemicals has doubled each year from 2000 to 2.3 billion tonnes, according to the report, and is projected to nearly double again by 2030, meaning that soil pollution is expected to increase further. The UN also warns of emerging contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials that lead to drug-resistant bacteria, and plastics.

“Global soils are under great pressure,” said Qu Dongyu, director of the UN food and agriculture organization. “This thin crust of the Earth’s surface, the soil, supports all life on earth and is involved in many key ecosystem services that are essential for the environment and for human health and well-being.”

Inger Andersen, director of the UN environment program (Unep), said: “Soil pollution may be invisible to human eyes, but it compromises the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Pollution knows no borders: pollutants move through soil, air and water.

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“It is time to reconnect with our soils, as that is where our feeding begins,” he said. “Soil contamination should no longer be a hidden reality. Let’s all be part of the solution to soil pollution. “

The future of soils looks “bleak” and their status is at least as important as the climate emergency and the destruction of the natural world above the soil, according to the scientists behind another UN report on soil biodiversity, published in December. . Since the Industrial Revolution, approximately 135 billion tons of soil have been lost of farmland and since it takes thousands of years for soils to form, urgent protection and restoration of the remaining soils is needed, the scientists said.

The new UN report concludes: “Soil pollutants can have irreparable consequences on human and ecosystem health.” The largest source of soil contamination varies by region, he found. The biggest problem is industrial pollution in Western Europe and North America, agriculture in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and mining in sub-Saharan Africa. In North Africa and the Near East, urban pollution is the main source of pollution.

“The critical step in identifying the party responsible for the contamination is still lacking in many states,” the report said. “Soil pollution is expected to increase unless there is a rapid change in production and consumption patterns and a political commitment towards real sustainable management where nature is fully respected.”

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“Greater political, business and social commitment is needed to seek alternatives to the use of highly toxic pollutants and to increase investment in research, prevention and remediation,” the report said, noting that cleanups after contamination occurs can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. . The world’s soils are also being damaged by other factors, such as erosion, acidification, salt contamination, and compaction.

A 2017 report found that a third of the planet’s land is severely degraded and fertile soil was being lost at a rate of 24 billion tons a year. The UK environment secretary said in 2017 that the country was 30 to 40 years away from “fundamental eradication of soil fertility” in some places.

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