What can soil scientist do to contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Plenty of things indeed. The achievement of UN SDGs depends largely on ecosystem services and many of these depend in their turn on key soil functions. This is well explained in this graphical abstract published by Keesstra et al. (2016) in the open-source journal SOIL of the European Geo-scineces Union.
In this FORUM paper we explore and discuss how soil scientists can rise to the challenge of reaching the UN SDGs both internally, in terms of our procedures and practices, and externally in terms of our relations with colleague scientists in other disciplines, diverse groups of stakeholders and the policy arena. To meet these goals we recommend the following steps to be taken by the soil science community as a whole:
(i) Embrace the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as they provide a platform that allows soil science to demonstrate its relevance for realizing a sustainable society by 2030.
(ii) Show the specific value of soil science: Research should explicitly show how using modern soil information can improve the results of inter- and trans-disciplinary studies on SDGs related to food security, water scarcity, climate change, biodiversity loss and health threats.
(iii) Given the integrative nature of soils, soil scientists are in a unique position to take leadership in overarching systems-analyses of ecosystems;
(iii) Raise awareness of soil organic matter as a key attribute of soils to illustrate its importance for soil functions and ecosystem services;
(iv) Improve the transfer of knowledge through knowledge brokers with a soil background;
(v) Start at the basis: educational programs are needed at all levels, starting in primary schools, and emphasizing practical, down-to-earth examples;
(vi) Facilitate communication with the policy arena by framing research in terms that resonate with politicians in terms of the policy cycle or by considering drivers, pressures and responses affecting impacts of land use change; and finally
(vii) all this is only possible if researchers, with soil scientists in the frontlines, look over the hedge towards other disciplines, to the world-at-large and to the policy arena, reaching over to listen first, as a basis for genuine collaboration.