Soil is the basis of virtually all terrestrial life. The IUCN Environmental Law Programme (ELP) is working on the improvement of environmental law and policy for the sustainable use of soils, particularly in regard to the ecological functions of soil for the conservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of human life.

The ELP develops legal instruments, guidelines and explanatory material for the sustainable use of soil through its WCEL Specialist Group on Sustainable Use of Soils and Desertification established in 2000. The Specialist Group is following a two-pronged approach: one related to the design of an international instrument on soils, the other related to the promotion of appropriate national legislation on the subject.

National Legislation on Soils

National legislation has been used for many years in many countries in a piece-meal fashion to manage specific types of soil problems and control land use activities, which directly cause soil degradation problems, and to indirectly control soil management problems. Legal and institutional frameworks used in most countries still approach soil conservation in a fragmented way. The ELP has identified generic legal and institutional elements that are appropriate for national soil legislation. These elements can also be used to assess the capacity of an existing law to meet prescribed standards of performance for the sustainable use of soil.

International Instruments on Soils

The ELP has furthermore reviewed many existing international and regional instruments that make reference to soils in some manner. It has discussed various relationships between different hard and soft law mechanisms that have been developed in international environmental law as they relate to soil. While the problem of soil and land degradation has not gone unnoticed by the world community, there has been little discussion until recently on the role of international environmental law in combating soil degradation. Supported by the Soil Scientists Expert Reference Group, the ELP is working on the development of an appropriate international legal framework and its pathway for progress towards implementation.