International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Global Soil Week Discusses Integrative Review Approach for HLPF 2017


The fourth Global Soil Week (GSW 2017) convened in Berlin, Germany, from 22-24 May 2017, on the theme, ‘Catalysing SDG Implementation through a Land and Soil Review.’ The meeting aimed to contribute to the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by looking at the subset of SDGs that are under review by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) 2017 through the lens of land and soils. The discussions were informed by experiences of some of the 44 countries that will present voluntary national reviews at this year’s HLPF.

GSW 2017 included an experimental “Thematic Review LAB,” which piloted contributions to the seven SDGs – 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and well-being), 5 (gender equality) 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 14 (life below water) and 17 (partnerships) – that will be the focus of the HLPF thematic review this year. The LAB aimed to, inter alia: identify progress, gaps and synergies in implementing the 2030 Agenda; synthesize knowledge and discuss trade-offs and synergies in SDG implementation; make proposals on the use of different data methods in the review process; discuss concrete policy actions needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda; and highlight opportunities for further collaboration and partnerships among UN agencies, national and international organizations, scientific institutions and civil society.

In his keynote address, Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), referred to the often-quoted saying about giving people fish versus teaching them to fish, noting that when there are no fish left, the discourse has to focus on the complex underlying causes for the decline of fish stocks, such as climate change and pollution. In this regard, he said that soil and land actors could help enhance the HLPF’s expertise by highlighting important interlinkages among the various SDGs and targets.

Noting that implementing the SDGs requires a profound transformation of society, politics and the economy, Stefan Schmitz, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, said the GSW can help showcase how the review of the SDGs can become a collective learning process. He also highlighted the adoption of the Berlin Charter at the close of the conference ‘ONE WORLD – No Hunger. Future of the rural world,’ which was convened by the German G20 presidency in April 2017.

During the closing session, participants discussed five take-home “stories” as well as five policy messages to the HLPF.

The five stories are: healthy nutrition starts with healthy soils; SDGs are the missing piece of globalization; coastal fisheries depend on sustainable land management to curb pollution; access to land and healthy soils can reduce pressures for migration and are part of the solution for young people; and equal access to land for women could reduce hunger by 30%. During discussions, participants further noted the need to: ensure that the SDGs contribute to a real shift in consciousness; address the links between sustainable consumption and land management; involve a broader range of actors in the review process; align spatial planning with territorial approaches to food security; and address the implications for land management, of mergers among multinational agricultural companies.

The five key policy messages are: increase investments in responsible land governance and monitor them; change consumption patterns in high consuming countries, because they are responsible for land degradation in other parts of the world; recognize the need for spatial planning addressing the rural-urban continuum in an integrated way; improve land tenure and land rights for vulnerable people by recognizing that human rights are under pressure because of shrinking space for civil society; and build a bridge between SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG target 15.3 (achieving land degradation neutrality) to ensure food security through the rehabilitation of degraded soils and managing landscapes for people.

Mark Smith, IUCN, urged participants “not to let the HLPF get away with adopting compartmentalized solutions,” and to use the GSW key messages as a step towards developing a “language” for integrating complex issues.

During discussions on the policy messages, Mark Smith, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), urged participants “not to let the HLPF get away with adopting compartmentalized solutions,” and to use the GSW key messages as a step towards developing a “language” for integrating complex issues. On the kinds of investments that will be needed to drive sustainability, Klaus Töpfer, GSW initiator, said that finance cannot only come from government, and noted that the World Bank increasingly sees its role as that of an “honest broker” to channel funding from diverse financial sources. He further stressed that implementing the SDGs on a global scale will require a sound understanding of the complexity and unexpected consequences of policy decisions.

The meeting closed with a high-level panel discussion that reflected on the methodology piloted at GSW 2017, with a view to informing the SDG review process at country and global levels. In one of the contributions, Marianne Beisheim, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said the greatest contribution of the meeting was in testing an approach to link the three core principles of the 2030 Agenda – accountability, universality and integration – to the HLPF thematic review process. She also proposed making greater efforts to link current “high salience” policy dialogues, such as the links between environmental degradation, poverty, security, and migration. Chantal Clément, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), applauded the diversity of formats used to encourage broad participation in the discussions and noted synergies between GSW and IPES-Food. Among some of the challenges that need to be addressed to achieve the SDGs, she highlighted the need to effectively harness different types of knowledge and to confront unequal power relations in global food value chains.

Convened for the first time in 2012, the GSW is a collective process and a knowledge platform for sustainable soil management and responsible land governance worldwide. GSW 2017 was attended by nearly 300 participants and was co-hosted by 22 partners drawn from governments, intergovernmental and scientific organizations and civil society networks, including: the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) Potsdam; Töpfer, Müller, Gaßner – Think Tank for Sustainability (TMG); the International Union of Soil Scientists (IUSS); the European Commission; the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Economic Development (BMZ); Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA); the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); and the ministries responsible for soil and land management of Benin, Burkina Faso and Kenya. [GSW 2017 Website] [IISD RS Report of GSW 2017] [IISD RS Meeting Coverage]

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