The core vision of the hub is that a pioneering UK - South Asia research partnership will catalyse transformational change where South Asia becomes a world leader in championing a strategic approach to nitrogen management, as a key step towards the SDGs globally. The hub will help deliver multiple SDGs, in particular: SDGs 1 & 2 (poverty & hunger), by promoting methods to produce more and better-quality food with less fertilizer inputs; SDGs 3 & 11 (health, cities & communities), by fostering synergies between N management for air pollution, waste management and disease prevention; SDG 13 (climate action), by reducing N2O and other greenhouse gas emissions per unit of food produced, while fostering development of climate-resilient practices; SDGs 6 & 14 (water), helping prioritize actions to reduce water pollution in the context of climate threats (e.g. coral bleaching); and SDG15 (life on land) by improving knowledge of the impact of nitrogen pollution on ecosystem services (esp. Himalayan forests). Links with other goals, SDGs 5 (gender), 9 (innovation), 12 (responsible production) & 17 (partnerships), are equally evident.
To achieve this vision, the hub adopts the following innovative aspects:
- Adoption of a challenge-driven theory-of-change for the nitrogen cycle.
For the first time, the hub will bring all of the SACEP partner countries together to address the multiple ways that human nitrogen use threatens food security, environmental quality, human health and wellbeing, exploring how a joined-up approach could help overcome the barriers.
- Emphasis on the economic and societal value of nitrogen.
India spends $7 billion annually on its N fertilizer subsidy, while the total Nr lost to the environment exceeds $10 billion. This highlights the opportunity to make savings through better N management. At the same time, the health, ecosystem and climate impacts of Indian nitrogen pollution have been valued at $75 (40–150) billion per year, pointing to the need to integrate the direct and indirect benefits.
- A new regional approach with SACEP as inter-governmental partner.
Previous efforts in the region have focused on UK-India (e.g., NEWS India-UK, INEW). One of the lessons has been the importance of developing a ‘country cluster’ approach, enabling mutual learning between countries, while allowing transboundary pollution and trade concerns to be addressed.
- Official Development Assistance (ODA) Amplification.
The GCRF office has indicated a preference to move beyond India for ODA in this call. We use this as a stimulus for an innovative concept we term “ODA Amplification”, whereby the UK contribution is catalytic to mobilize sharing of leading expertise between South Asian countries, which would otherwise not have happened.
- Integration across actor groups.
Applied research on the nitrogen cycle has often worked with one or more actor groups (e.g. farmers, civil society, business, governments), but rarely with all these groups. The innovative approach adopted allows the hub to broker better understanding between fundamentally different perspectives as a foundation for durable change. The engagement of all 8 SACEP partner countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) is at the heart of promoting environmental diplomacy in a region of major historical sensitivities, while developing a coherent message to share with other world regions. This includes sustained engagement through the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-1 to -3, while already preparing for UNEA-4).