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Human Acceleration of the Nitrogen Cycle

Managing Risks and Uncertainty

image of Human Acceleration of the Nitrogen Cycle

This publication examines the risks associated with the release of excessive nitrogen into the environment (climate change, depletion of the ozone layer, air pollution, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, deterioration of soil quality). The report also examines the uncertainty associated with the ability of nitrogen to move from one ecosystem to another and cause "cascading effects". In addition to better management of nitrogen risks at the local level, there is a need to consider the global risks associated with the continued increase in nitrous oxide concentrations and to prevent excess nitrogen in all its forms by developing cost-effective strategies for all its sources. Other than the reduction of nitrogen pollution, this report provides guidance on the use of nitrogen policy instruments and how to ensure coherence with objectives such as food security, energy security and environmental objectives.

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Executive summary

Nitrogen is often the limiting nutrient for the growth of plants and crops on which animals and humans feed. The rapid growth in the use of fertilisers has been one factor contributing to increased crop yields. Around half the world’s population depends on nitrogen fertilisers for their food consumption, making nitrogen essential to global food security, and it will be increasingly so as population grows to an estimated 9.7 billion by 2050.

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