Soil-derived Nature’s Contributions to People and their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Pete Smith* (Corresponding Author), Saskia D. Keesstra, Whendee L. Silver, Tapan K. Adhya, Gerlinde B. De Deyn, Luísa G. Carvalheiro, Donna Giltrap, Phil Renforth, Kun Cheng, Binoy Sarkar, Patricia M. Saco, Kate Scow, Jo Smith, Jean-Claude Morel, Sören Thiele-Bruhn, Rattan Lal, Pamela McElwee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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This special issue provides an assessment of the contribution of soils to Nature’s Contributions to People (NCP). Here we combine this assessment and previously published relationships between NCP and delivery on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to infer contributions of soils to the SDGs. We show that in addition to contributing positively to the delivery of all NCP, soils also have a role in underpinning all SDGs. Whilst highlighting the great potential of soils to contribute to sustainable development, it is recognised that poorly managed, degraded or polluted soils may contribute negatively to both NCP and SDGs. The positive contribution, however, cannot be taken for granted, and soils must be managed carefully to keep them healthy and capable of playing this vital role. A priority for soil management must include: 1) for healthy soils in natural ecosystems, protect them from conversion and degradation, 2) for managed soils, manage in a way to protect and enhance soil biodiversity, health and sustainability and to prevent degradation, and 3) for degraded soils, restore to full soil health. We have enough knowledge now to move forward with the implementation of best management practices to maintain and improve soil health. This analysis shows that this is not just desirable, it is essential if we are to meet the SDG targets by 2030 and achieve sustainable development more broadly in the decades to come.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20200185
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1834
Early online date4 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

The input of PS contributes to Soils-R-GRREAT (NE/P019455/1) and the input of PS and SK contributes to the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme through project CIRCASA (grant agreement no. 774378). PR acknowledges funding from UK Greenhouse Gas Removal Programme
(NE/P01982X/2). GB De Deyn acknowledges FoodShot Global for its support. TKA acknowledges the support of “Towards Integrated Nitrogen Management System (INMS) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), executed through the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The input of DG was supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) strategic science
investment fund (SSIF). PMS acknowledges support from the Australian Research Council (Project FT140100610). PM’s work on ecosystem services is supported by a National Science Foundation grant #1853759, “Understanding the Use of Ecosystem Services Concepts in Environmental Policy”. LGC is funded by National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, Brazil – grants 421668/2018-0 and 305157/2018-3) and by Lisboa2020 FCT/EU (project 028360). BS acknowledges support from the Lancaster
Environment Centre Project.


  • soil
  • soil health
  • Nature's Contribution to People
  • sustainable development goals
  • SDG
  • NCP


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