The world is getting more efficient at using many natural resources – but not nitrogen. Over the past fifty years, humans have used more nitrogen in the environment, largely as fertiliser, than virtually any other element.
More than half of the nitrogen applied to farmland is now polluting rivers rather than being absorbed by cropsi.
Excess nutrients - including from fertiliser - causes algae blooms, which steal oxygen and nutrients from other fish and aquatic species. Such pollution has led to more than 400 ‘dead zones’ existing in the world’s oceans, with the largest sized over 32 000 km2 in the Baltic Sea.
As part of our response, UN Environment hosts the Secretariat of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management. There, governments, UN agencies, scientists and the private sector share best practices that can be applied to policies and investments.
Research on how the use of nitrogen in agriculture impacts the environment is also taking place under the International Nitrogen Management System. The aim is to establish demonstration sites for managing nitrogen in different scenarios worldwide.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, signed by 150 governments, contains a target to reduce pollution from excess nutrients down to a level that is not harmful to ecosystems by 2020. Action to use fertiliser more efficiently can protect marine species and reduce CO2 emissions, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Click here to learn more about the nitrogen crisis here. Find out more on the ecological status of European waterbodies from p.115 in the sixth Global Environment Outlook for the pan-European region here.
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