UNSW scientists team up with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to promote sustainable land management

UNSW scientists have joined forces with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to inform the debate on one of the 21st century’s big challenges: land degradation and desertification. The joint paper sheds light on how sustainable land management (SLM) is essential to conserving soil biodiversity – a key element of tackling this challenge.

The paper – titled Soil Biodiversity and Soil Organic Carbon: Keeping Drylands Alive – aims to inform the public discourse on land use and land degradation in Australia and the world, and contributes to policies and strategies that advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Sustainable use of land resources is central to the sustainable development of developing and developed countries,” says Professor Graciela Metternicht of the School of BEES at the Faculty of Science at UNSW.

“Our research is especially relevant to our country; nearly all of our outback is arid and semi-arid rangelands, which is about 75% of Australia’s land mass,” Professor Metternicht says.

Dr Inger Anderson, Director General of IUCN, and Dr Alexander Muller, Managing Director of the Thinktank for Sustainability, say the importance of soil biodiversity cannot be overstated:

“Soil forms a thin, yet vital membrane covering the non-submerged surface of our planet. It drives the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles upon which life on earth depends and is home to an immense diversity of species, all of which contribute invaluable, life-giving services to society. 

“But soil is as fragile as it is abundant. A growing human population is driving increased demands for food, fibre and fuel which is in turn putting an unsustainable strain on the world’s soils. So much so that, today, up to a third of land is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification, and chemical and other contaminants of soils.”

The health of soils is now a part of global and national discussions, most notably through its inclusion in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and other global targets set under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.  

“Our paper builds on the growing discourse on soil stewardship and further strengthens the underlying message that soil is a public good which requires economic valuation and related institutional arrangements to protect it for the overall welfare of society,” Professor Metternicht says.

“The research outlines some operational considerations, drawing on practical experiences and lessons from across the globe, and demonstrates that many development wins could be gained from sustainable land management.”

Just this past Sunday, IUCN celebrated World Day to Combat Desertification, an awareness day established by the United Nations. The day focused on SLM as a way to regenerate economies, create jobs and revitalize communities, using the slogan “Land has true value – invest in it”.

The paper by UNSW scientists and IUCN can be accessed here.