June 2013

Global risk of nitrogen pollution

The extreme growth of nitrogen pollution in China in the last decades predicts what our future holds in store if we do not rethink the situation, now that all over the world people are using increasingly more fertilizer and eat more and more meat. That is the message of an opinion paper written by Albert Bleeker of ECN and Mark Sutton of the 'Centre for Ecology & Hydrology' in Edinburg in Nature.

Bleeker and Sutton respond to a previous article published in Nature by main author Xuejun Liu of the China Agricultural University in Beijing. This article states that nitrogen deposition in China increased with about 60 per cent in the period 1980 till 2000. This increase was caused by a rapid rise of nitrogen emissions by agriculture and industrial sources. Bleeker and Sutton warn that by 2050, unless proper action is taken, China’s situation could become reality in many other parts of the world.

UN report
Both the estimates of the team of Xuejun Liu and the outlook for 2050 developed by Bleeker and Sutton are based on a report published in February 2013 on assignment of the Environmental programme of the United Nations, drawn up by a team of 50 researchers from 14 countries. Bleeker and Sutton had a managing role in it.

Action points
The report mentions 10 action points to improve the use of nutrients and suggests a 20:20 target for 2020. A 20 per cent efficiency improvement in the use of nutrients saves 20 million tonnes of nitrogen in the year 2020. To prevent serious nitrogen pollution in the future, the authors recommend countries to organise themselves and take joint action.

Read the publication of Bleeker and Sutton in Nature or have Albert Bleeker send it to you.

Read the UNEP report ‘Our Nutrient World’.