Human interference with the nitrogen cycle has doubled reactive nitrogen inputs to the global biosphere over the past century, leading to changes across multiple environmental issues that require urgent action. Nitrogen fertilizers and biological nitrogen fixation have allowed benefits of increased crop harvest and livestock production, while in some areas there is insufficient nitrogen to fertilize crops. Whether in excess or deficit, nitrogen losses from its inefficient use are causing a combination of freshwater and marine pollution, air pollution, alteration of climate balance, stratospheric ozone loss, biodiversity loss and reduction of soil quality. The resulting nitrogen pollution affects human health, well-being and livelihoods. Scientific efforts have begun to bring these issues together. However, there is still a high degree of fragmentation between research on the different benefits and threats of reactive nitrogen and between the respective policy frameworks, especially at the global scale. We argue that a more joined-up approach to managing the global nitrogen cycle is needed to develop the ‘gravity of common cause’ between nitrogen issues and to avoid policy trade-offs. We describe how a coherent system for science evidence provision is being developed to support policy development through the ‘International Nitrogen Management System’ (INMS). There is now a matching challenge to bring together the multiple policy agreements relevant for nitrogen as a foundation to address synergies/trade-offs and to set priorities. Based on review of existing frameworks, we outline the concept for an Interconvention nitrogen coordination mechanism. This could make a major contribution to multiple Sustainable Development Goals by stimulating the next generation of international nitrogen strategies: maximizing the benefits of efficient nitrogen use, while minimizing its many environmental threats.
Sutton, M.A; Howard, C.M; Brownlie, W.J; Kanter, D; de Vries, W; Adhya, T.K.; Ometto, J.P; Baron, J.S; Winiwarter, W; Ju, X; Masso, C; Oenema, O; Raghuram, N; van Grinsven, H.J.M; Van der Beck, I; Cox, C; Hansen, S.C.B; Ramachandran, R; Hicks, W.K.
Year of publication
Just Enough Nitrogen. Perspectives on how to get there for regions with too much and too little nitrogen