Wake up to devastating impacts of nitrogen, say 150 scientists

More than 150 scientists from 35 countries are calling for “urgent action on nitrogen pollution, to tackle the widespread harm it is causing to humans, wildlife and the planet”.

In an open letter to UN secretary general António Guterres, the scientists, hailing from institutions such as the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the German Environment Agency, say nitrogen waste from all sources globally must be halved by 2030. 

Nitrogen, through its forms – which include ammonia, nitrogen dioxide, nitrous oxide and nitrate – is polluting “air, soil and water, posing a threat to human health, biodiversity, economies and livelihoods”, the letter states. 

Currently, 80% of nitrogen used by humans – including through crop, meat and dairy production, as well as via transport, energy, industrial and wastewater processes – is wasted and enters the environment as pollution, says the letter, with nitrogen losses in the UK estimated at 1.4 million tonnes a year, at a market cost of US $1.4 billion. Globally this amounts to 200 million tonnes a year at cost of US $200 billion, according to the scientists.

Better management would “prevent millions of premature deaths, help ensure food security, and simultaneously help protect wildlife and the ozone layer”, they say.

The letter is accompanied by a report, ‘Nitrogen: Grasping the Challenge’, which includes contributions from more than 70 UK and international science institutes, government agencies and companies. 

It highlights possible ways of reducing nitrogen pollution, including “more efficient use and application of fertilisers and manure in agriculture; cutting food waste plus avoiding excessive meat and dairy consumption to reduce global production; and new technology to recapture nitrogen oxide emissions from transport and fossil fuel burning”. 

Professor Mark Sutton of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said: “It’s vital we make the transition from a linear system of waste to a ‘circular economy’ for nitrogen to prevent large-scale losses that have an impact on human health, livelihoods and planet Earth.”

 

Related ENDS Compliance Content

  • Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended)
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    Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended)

    In force/
    Current
    Legislation
    England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, UK, Wales
    Published
    22 Mar 2019

    Commentary

    28/02/2013 Scottish Order (SSI 2013/74) varying Section 153 published.
    07/11/2013 Amending regulations (SSI 2013/315) published, increasing fly-tipping and littering fixed penalties for Scotland from April 2014.
    07/05/2015 Amending Order SSI 2015/188 published, substituting definition of the EU Waste Directive in relation to Scotland only., 27/05/2015 Amending Order SSI 2015/210 varying Section 153(1) (Financial assistance for environmental purposes) published.
    12/02/2016 Amending Regulations (SSI 2016/99) published, amending Section 78YB in relation to Scotland only., 14/03/2016 Amending Regulations (SI 2016/334) published., 26/10/2017 Amending Order ( WSI 2017/1024 ) published.
    12/02/2018 Amending Regulations ( SI 2018/171) published., 24/08/2018 Amending Regulations ( SI 2018/942) published.
    01/02/2019 Amending Regulations ( SSI 2019/26) published., 22/02/2019 Amending Regulations ( WSI 2019/331) published.

    Compliance Dates

    15/11/1990 Comes into force on 15/11/1990
    05/11/1990 Sections 128 to 139 come into force to the extent stated in the Environmental Act 1990 (Commencement No.1) Order 1990 (SI 1990/2226) (see Section 164) o
    05/11/1990, 13/11/1990 Sections 89(7), 89(8), 89(9), 89(11), 89(12) and 89(13) come into force (see Section 164) on 13/11/1990, 19/12/1990 Section 3 comes into force (see Section 164) on 19/12/1990
    01/01/1991 Sections 1, 2, 4 to 28, 100 to 105, and 159 come into force (see Section 164) o
    01/01/1991, Sections 79 to 85, 97, 99, 140 to 142, 145, 146, 148, 153 to 155, 157, 160, 161, 162(5) and 163 come into force (see Section 164) o
    01/01/1991, Sections 105, 162(1) and 162(2) come into force to the extent stated in Section 164(2) (see Section 164) o
    01/01/1991, Section 162(2) comes into force to the extent stated in the Environmental Protection Act (Commencement No.4) Order 1990 (SI 1990/2635) (see Section 164) o
    01/01/1991, 14/01/1991 Sections 86(2), 86(6) to (8), 86(11), 86(14), 86(15), 88(5), 88(7), 88(9)(b), 89(4), 90(1), 90(2), 90(7), 94(1), 94(2), 96(2), and 96(3) come into force (see Section 164) on 14/01/1991, 14/01/1991 Section 162(1) comes into force to the extent stated in the Environmental Protection Act (Commencement No.5) Order1991 (SI 1991/96) (see Section 164) on 14/01/1991, 13/02/1991 Sections 86(1), 86(4), 86(5), 86(9), 86(13), 87(1), 87(2), 87(3)(a) to (e), 87(4) to (6), 88(1) to (4), 88(6), 88(8), 88(9)(a), 88(9)(c) to (e) and 88(10), 98(1), 98(2), 98(5) and 98(6) come into force (see Section 164) on 13/02/1991
    01/04/1991 Sections 128, 130, 132 and 162(2) come into force to the extent stated in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Commencement No.6 and Appointed Day) Order 1991 (SI 1991/685) (see Section 164) o
    01/04/1991, Sections 86(3), 86(10), 87(7), 89(1)(a) to (f), 89(2), 89(3), 89(5), 89(6), 89(10), 89(14), 91(1)(a) to (f), 91(2) to (13), 92(1)(a) to (c), 92(2) to (10), 93, 94(3) to (9),

    Characteristics

    Subject

    Air General policy Hazardous substances Industrial regulation Land and development Statutory nuisance Sustainable development Transport Waste Water

    Source

    OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information)

    Affected Sectors

    Cross-sector

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