Global soil degradation is increasingly being recognised as a threat to food security, biodiversity and fresh water security. Scientists, alarmed that the rate of topsoil loss is now exceeding the rate of soil formation, are determining the environmental sustainability thresholds for soil erosion and calculating the timescales at which the world runs out of topsoil. At the same time, the fundamental role of soil in the delivery of ecosystem services including food and fibre production, fresh water regulation and support of biodiversity, has largely been ignored in international policy. Given projected increases in global population this issue now has critical significance.

To bring further attention to the issue of global soil degradation, and to build support for the issue to be addressed at Rio+20, the Australian Government hosted a side event to the informal-informal negotiations for Rio+20 at the United Nations in New York on Tuesday 25th April. The Hon Robert Hill, Adjunct Professor of Sustainability at the United States Studies Centre and former Ambassador to the UN, chaired the event. Speakers included members of the US Studies Centre Soil Carbon Initiative international coalition of soil scientists, Professor Rattan Lal from Ohio State University, and Professor Alex McBratney from the University of Sydney. Dr Neil McKenzie, Chief of Land and Water with CSIRO represented the Australian Government. The UN Convention on the prevention of Desertification and Drought (UNCCD) was represented by Dr Nandhini Iyer Krishna, from the UNCCD New York Liaison Office.

The Benin Ambassador to the UN and representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the European Commission, the Ghana Mission to the UN, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Savory Institute responded to the presentations.

For more information, contact Andrea Koch, Program Leader, Soil Carbon Initiative at


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