Tackling the climate emergency by protecting the soil

In any country in the world, each of us has experienced the consequences of climate change at least once. Torrential rains, floods, heat above the seasonal average, melting ice or absence of snow. A long list of events which – there is no longer any doubt – are due to global warming.

A hotter planet

The latest data collected by Copernicus, the EU’s climate change service, describe 2022 as a year of extreme weather events, with a widespread increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and record temperatures in many geographical areas.

For example, Antarctica recorded the warmest temperature ever measured in the last 65 years (-17.7°C, Vostok station) with unusually low sea ice conditions throughout the year. In contrast, in tropical and subtropical regions, extremely high pre-monsoon temperatures triggered prolonged spring heatwaves and record high and low temperatures (especially in Pakistan and northern India). Central and eastern China have experienced long-lasting heat waves, resulting in droughts during the summer. An unusual heat which also characterized late spring and summer in Europe and which, associated with the lack of rain, caused severe drought in the southern and central areas of the continent.

A worrying situation also confirmed by the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) according to which global warming, with an increase in the average global temperature of 1.1°C compared to the pre-industrial era, is now having widespread and disastrous impacts all over the world. An unfortunately growing trend, which if it continues in the next few years, could lead global warming to 1.5°C around 2040, with increasingly catastrophic consequences.

Natural disasters and soil exploitation

According to data collected by WMO, an intergovernmental agency of the United Nations (UN), between 1970 and 2021, extreme weather, climatic and water phenomena occurred, caused as many as 11,778 disasters, with 4.3 trillion dollars of damage and over 2 million dead, especially in developing countries.

However, what causes many of these natural disasters, connected to the constant rise in the temperature of the Earth, is not only pollution and excessive CO2 emissions, but also the excessive exploitation of the soil, due to all those human activities that put risk the stability of our delicate ecosystem and, in particular, the stability of the land.

climate emergency

Think of the overbuilding of urban and extra-urban areas, which reduces the permeability of the land, increasing the risk of landslides, but also deforestation, which has always been an important cause of hydrogeological instability in the area, since the reduction of vegetation decreases its stability, compromising the hydrological processes. Not least is intensive agriculture, which leads to uncontrolled use of the soil and a high consumption of water, to which is often added the poor or absent maintenance of the land and the wild withdrawal of resources from the subsoil, which damages its natural balance.

Preserve the environment and defend yourself from Global Warming

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “reversing the soil degradation process” is essential to protect biodiversity and contribute to solving our planet’s climate crisis, as well as allowing us to feed an ever-growing world population. Approximately 95% of global food production depends on the soil. Despite this, unsustainable agricultural practices, the excessive exploitation of natural resources and population growth are putting a strain on our planet, where a third of the soil is, according to FAO, already deteriorated.

We must not forget that together with the oceans, the earth’s soil is one of the main carbon sinks and plays a fundamental role in mitigating climate change. Furthermore, the soils of the Earth are a vital environment for many animal and plant species, given that it is estimated that they host 25% of the world’s biodiversity.

We all have to do our part

As FAO maintains, all countries in the world must strengthen their commitment to protect and preserve soil health, by acting on several fronts. For example, it is essential to increase investments to support the adoption of sustainable soil management practices and promote the re-carbonization of the soils themselves, as well as promote the protection of agricultural land with security measures of the tenure regime.

It is a priority to encourage the development of sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices, also through the use of advanced and innovative technologies, in order to be able to counter the harmful effects of intensive cultivation and breeding techniques, which have led to depletion and erosion soil, damaging natural systems.

Man is not all. Reducing land take must also become an important starting point for promoting more correct territorial planning and sustainable urbanisation. Added to this is the need for a greater commitment to urban redevelopment, to reuse abandoned or underused areas instead of occupying new land, and for a more efficient and controlled use of water resources.

Finally, the fight against deforestation, with the aim of protecting the green lung of our planet as much as possible. Suffice it to say that, according to the United Nations, forests cover 31% of the world’s land surface and absorb about 15.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.

An interesting project to follow?

The first Soil Atlas dedicated (for now) to Asia has just been published, created thanks to the Global Soil Partnership of FAO, together with the Joint Research Center of the European Commission, to promote sustainable soil management, preserve its health and counteract the factors of degradation. The Soil Atlas of Asia is the result of a team effort involving about 100 soil experts from 45 countries around the world: it is intended to be a working tool to share with anyone – from insiders to the public generalist – common actions to be able to defend, all together, the soil of our planet, enhancing it both at an environmental and agri-food level.

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Tackling the climate emergency by protecting the soil