Highlights of the report on how produce more food and energy with less pollution – the challenges and risks related to nutrient use and availability.

our nutrient world 2

Highlights by GreenFacts of the report “Our Nutrient World”  prepared by the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management in collaboration with the International Nitrogen Initiative

THE REPORT IN A GLANCE  followed by its Highlights in 8 Questions and answers

1. The aim of this report  This report highlights how nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers are estimated to feed half the human population alive today, and how they will remain critical in the future, especially given increasing population and potential bioenergy needs. The report shows how these problems cross all global change challenges, threatening water, air and soil quality, climate balance, stratospheric ozone and biodiversity. The report also highlights that there is still no intergovernmental framework to address the multiple challenges for nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients.

 2. The specific threats related to nutrients Without swift and collective action, the next generation will inherit a world where many millions may suffer from food insecurity caused by too few nutrients, where the nutrient pollution threats from too much will become more extreme, and where unsustainable use of nutrients will contribute even more to biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change.

 3. Why are nutrients so important The world needs nutrients, especially nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), which are essential to raise crops and animals have more than doubled and their natural cycles are now out of balance, causing major environmental, health and economic problems that have received far too little attention.

4. The most critical environmental risks regarding nutrients The five key environmental threats of too much or too little nutrients are  Water quality , air quality , greenhouse gas balance, ecosystems &  biodiversity and  soil quality.

5.The risks of nutrient shortage On average over 80% of Nitrogen and 25-75% of Phosphorus consumed (where not temporarily stored in agricultural soils) end up lost to the environment, wasting the energy used to prepare them, and causing air and water pollution.  In particular finite phosphorus reserves in particular represent a potential risk for future global food security given that there is no alternative to P as an essential plant nutrient.

 6. How to adress these nutrient challenges Reduce nutrient losses and improve nutrient use efficiency across all sectors simultaneously would provide the foundation for a Greener Economy to produce more food and energy while reducing environmental pollution. This effort must cross the boundaries between economic sectors and environmental media, be underpinned by scientific and other evidence from a robust global assessment process, share best practices, and address the substantial cultural and economic barriers that currently limit adoption.

 7. The actions and outcomes that need to be decided  Ten main domains were identified in the report on which action should be concentrated in the area of agriculture,  transport and Industry, waste and recycling, societal consumption patterns and spatial and temporal optimization of nutrient flows. One option is to strengthen the mandate of the ‘Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities’ (GPA).

THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE  REPORT IN 8 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

1. What is the aim of this report?  This report draws attention to the multiple benefits and threats of human nutrient use. It highlights how nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers are estimated to feed half the human population alive today, and how they will remain critical in the future, especially given increasing population and potential bioenergy needs. The report shows how these problems cross all global change challenges, threatening water, air and soil quality, climate balance, stratospheric ozone and biodiversity. The report also highlights that there is still no intergovernmental framework to address the multiple challenges for nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients.

 2. What are the specific threats related to nutrients? Without swift and collective action, the next generation will inherit a world where many millions may suffer from food insecurity caused by too few nutrients, where the nutrient pollution threats from too much will become more extreme, and where unsustainable use of nutrients will contribute even more to biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change, underlines in the editorial of the report Achim Steiner,  United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme. Conversely with more sustainable management of nutrients, economies can play a role in a transition to a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

3. Why are nutrients so important? The world needs nutrients, especially nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), which are essential to raise crops and animals to feed an increasing world population In order to feed 7 billion people, humans have more than doubled global land-based cycling of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)  and their natural cycles are now out of balance, causing major environmental, health and economic problems that have received far too little attention.

Unless action is taken, increases in population and per capita consumption of energy and animal products will exacerbate nutrient losses, pollution levels and land degradation, further threatening the quality of our water, air and soils, affecting climate and biodiversity.

4. What are the most critical environmental risks regarding nutrients? The five key environmental threats of too much or too little nutrients are :

            a. Water quality including coastal and freshwater dead zones, hypoxia, fish kills,  algal blooms, nitrate contaminated aquifers and impure drinking water, resulting from both Nitrogen and Phosphorus eutrophication.

            b. Air quality – including shortening of human life through exposure to air pollutants includ-ing particulate matter formed from NOx and NH3 emissions, and from increased concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3).

            c. Greenhouse gas balance – including emissions of N2O plus interactions with other Nitrogen forms, particulate matter and atmospheric Nitrogen deposition, plus tropospheric O3. N2O is now also the main cause of stratospheric ozone depletion, increasing the risk of skin cancer from UV-B radiation.Our Nutrient World

           d. Ecosystems and biodiversity – including the loss of species of high conservation value naturally adapted to few nutrients. Eutrophication from atmospheric Nr deposition is an insidious pressure that threatens the biodiversity of many ‘protected’ natural ecosystems.

           e. Soil quality – over-fertilization and too much atmospheric N2 deposition acidify natural and agricultural soils, while a shortage of N and P nutrients leads to soil degradation, which can be exacerbated by a shortage of micronutrients, leading to loss of fertility and erosion.

5. Are there risks of nutrient shortage? The efficiency of nutrient use is very low: considering the full chain, on average over 80% of N and 25-75% of P consumed (where not temporarily stored in agricultural soils) end up lost to the environment, wasting the energy used to prepare them, and causing pollution through emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) and ammonia (NH3) to the atmosphere, plus losses of nitrate (NO3-), phosphate (PO43-) and organic N, P compounds to water. While recent trends in nutrient consumption are relatively stable in developed countries, growing human population and rising per capita meat/dairy consumption as a result of increasing incomes are together causing a rapid increase in nutrient consumption in transitional and developing countries.

Finite phosphorus reserves in particular represent a potential risk for future global food security. Phosphorus is obtained from mining of finite phosphate rock deposits, with current world supplies coming from just a few key countries. This poses potential risks for future supply, given that there is no alternative to P as an essential plant nutrient. Parallel risks apply for other mined nutrients including potassium (K) and micronutrients, especially zinc, for which the currently identified resources have a much shorter lifetime than for phosphorus and potassium.

6. How to address these nutrient challenges? Reduce nutrient losses and improve nutrient use efficiency across all sectors simultaneously would provide the foundation for a Greener Economy to produce more food and energy while reducing environmental pollution. This effort must cross the boundaries between economic sectors and environmental media, be underpinned by scientific and other evidence from a robust global assessment process, share best practices, and address the substantial cultural and economic barriers that currently limit adoption.

7. Which actions and outcomes need to be decided?  One option is to strengthen the mandate of the ‘Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities’ (GPA) to address the inter-linkages between land, air and water, in relation to the global supply of all nutrient sources and Nutrient Use Efficiency (NUE) across the full chain, considering their regional variation. The ten main domains identified in the report on which action should be concentrated are:

a. Agriculture

1. Improving nutrient use efficiency in crop production,

2. Improving nutrient use efficiency in animal production,

3. Increasing the fertilizer equivalence value of animal manure,

b. Transport and Industry

4. Low-emission combustion and energy-efficient systems, including renewable sources,

5. Development of NOx capture and utilization technology,

c. Waste and Recycling

6. Improving nutrient efficiency in fertilizer and food supply and reducing food waste;

7. Recycling nitrogen and phosphorus from waste water systems, in cities, agriculture and industry,

d. Societal consumption patterns

8. Energy and transport saving,

9. Lowering personal consumption of animal protein among populations consuming high rates (avoiding excess and voluntary reduction),

e. Integration and optimization

10. Spatial and temporal optimization of nutrient flows.

 8. Does the report propose examples of practical actions? Examples of current national and regional nutrient policies are illustrated in the report showing many positive actions. However, it is concluded that a more joined-up approach addressing the ‘Nutrient Nexus’ would be expected to deliver substantial synergies, motivating common action while minimizing trade-offs.  A blueprint for an intergovernmental framework to address the multiple challenges for nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients is outlined, considering the institutional options. The potential for net economic benefits is illustrated by estimating the consequences of meeting a common aspirational goal to improve nutrient use efficiency by 20% by the year 2020.

 

References 

(2013) Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution. Global Overview of Nutrient Management. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh on behalf of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management and the International Nitrogen Initiative. Published by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Edinburgh UK, on behalf of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) and the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI).The report is available on-line at the following locations: www.unep.org and www.gpa.unep.org/gpnm.html

authors : Sutton M.A., Bleeker A., Howard C.M., Bekunda M., Grizzetti B., de Vries W., van Grinsven H.J.M., Abrol Y.P., Adhya T.K., Billen G.,. Davidson E.A, Datta A., Diaz R., Erisman J.W., Liu X.J., Oenema O., Palm C., Raghuram N., Reis S., Scholz R.W., Sims T., Westhoek H. & Zhang F.S., with contributions from Ayyappan S., Bouwman A.F., Bustamante M., Fowler D., Galloway J.N., Gavito M.E., Garnier J., Greenwood S., Hellums D.T., Holland M., Hoysall C., Jaramillo V.J., Klimont Z., Ometto J.P., Pathak H., Plocq Fichelet V., Powlson D., Ramakrishna K., Roy A., Sanders K., Sharma C., Singh B., Singh U., Yan X.Y. & Zhang Y.

This Global Overview has been prepared as a scientifically independent process and  incorporates outcomes from several meetings,The views and conclusions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect policies of the contributing organizations. As an overview, this report does not attempt to reach consensus on all issues.

The Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) is a multi-stakeholder partnership comprising of governments, private sector, scientific community, civil society organizations and UN agencies committed to promote effective nutrient management to achieve the twin goals of food security through increased productivity and conservation of natural resources and the environment.

The International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) is a scientific partnership that addresses the problems of too much nitrogen in some parts of the world and too little nitrogen in others. It is a joint project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE).

note:  the Highlights of GreenFacts are not reviewed by its Scientific Committee

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