UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 14. Summary of key findings and way forward

Way forward to prevent and halt soil pollution and to remediate polluted soils

Based on the scientific evidence gathered for this report, as well as comments and discussions of multiple stakeholders who participated in different Global Soil Partnership and UNEP fora, such as the GSP Plenary Assembly, Regional Soil Partnership meetings, World Soil Day celebration, the Global Symposium on Soil Pollution and its side events, the side event during UNEA-4, and other scientific and technical events, a number of key recommendations to tackle soil pollution imminently and effectively are defined below.

The first and foremost action against soil pollution is prevention. All stakeholders must take decisive steps in the prevention of soil pollution, starting with small actions in people’s consumption decisions and extending to the development of stringent policies and incentives that encourage industrial innovation and the adoption of environmentally sound technologies.

14.3.1. Actions to fill knowledge gaps in the pollution cycle: from identification and mapping to monitoring

  • Harmonise standard operating procedures for laboratory methods of soil contaminants analysis and develop standardized threshold levels of soil pollution.
  • Promote the inclusion of soil pollution into conventional soil surveys, and the inclusion of data and information on soil pollution into national and global soil information systems.
  • Promote the establishment of the Global Soil Pollution Information and Monitoring System.
  • Increase the investment in targeted research and innovation on emerging contaminants: detection, fate in the environment, risks assessment and remediation.
  • Develop and strengthen the inventory and monitoring of point-source and diffuse soil pollution at national, regional and global levels.
  • Establish and strengthen national biomonitoring and epidemiological surveillance systems to identify, assess, and monitor damage and diseases attributable to soil pollution and support preventive actions.

14.3.2. Strengthening legislative frameworks and technical actions

  • Enforce compliance with international agreements on chemicals, persistent organic pollutants, waste, and sustainable soil management (including the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management, and the International Codes of Conducts for the Sustainable Use and Management of Fertilizers and Pesticides).
  • Establish a system of incentives and recognition to efforts to stop soil pollution, including eco-labelling or compliance to schemes like the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management by providing labelling to agriculture products implementing those tools/schemes.
  • Advocate for a global commitment towards preventing, halting and remediating soil pollution in the framework of Zero Pollution/Towards a Pollution Free Planet ambitions, using regional efforts and targets such as the European Green Deal as a basis.
  • Improve national and international regulations on emissions from industry and mining and promote environmentally friendly industrial processes.
  • Develop and promote “right to repair” policies and de-incentivize planned obsolescence of manufactured materials to reduce waste, including e-waste.
  • De-incentivize and reduce single-use items, particularly in packaging for materials and foodstuffs.
  • Implement appropriate waste collection and green management policies that promote recycling and ensure the adequate treatment of different types of waste within and among countries.
  • Promote and incentivize the use of sustainable transport.
  • Implement policies aimed at sustainable management of agricultural soils with a special focus on reducing dependence on agrochemicals and controlling the quality of irrigation water and organic residues.
  • Develop and include in national reporting mechanisms soil pollution targets and indicators related to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Scale up nature-based and environmentally sound sustainable management and remediation technologies (e.g. bioremediation).

14.3.3. Improving awareness and communication

  • Launch a global awareness raising campaign on soil pollution aimed at the general public for them to understand why soil pollution matters to all and how they could be part of the solution.
  • Promote efforts and choices that are “soil pollution-free” for citizens to select when choosing agricultural, forestry, or any other products.
  • Foster citizen science activities and citizen observatories to improve early warning systems and community-based soil pollution monitoring.
  • Promote public awareness of responsible and environmentally friendly consumption and encourage separation at source and the waste hierarchy, in particular the 4R approach (reduce, reuse, recycle and recover).
  • Advocate for the inclusion of soil health and soil pollution topics for general studies at schools and institutions of higher education.

14.3.4. Fostering international cooperation and soil pollution monitoring networks

  • Facilitate the transfer of scientific knowledge through international events and promote the publication of information in open access sources.
  • Advocate for technology transfer and cross-capacity building for the whole cycle of soil pollution, from prevention to detection, monitoring, management, and remediation, from regions and countries with high expertise and experience on soil pollution to developing countries with less or no expertise in the topic.
  • Build and strengthen transboundary monitoring networks to prevent, manage, and remediate diffuse pollution.
  • Establish a global training programme for developing capacities on the full cycle of soil pollution.