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Sustainable Nitrogen Management

  Jul 03, 2020

Sustainable Nitrogen Management

Why in news?

In a significant first, India piloted resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen management at the fourth session of United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) which was held in Nairobi March 2019.

Why does nitrogen matter so much?

Nitrogen plays significant role on our planet. Without nitrogen there would be no life on earth – no chlorophyll, no hemoglobin, no plants or animals. Carbon provides the basic skeleton of organic matter but nitrogen allows that matter to take on different forms and roles. Amino acids, proteins, DNA – all of them are nitrogen compounds. It is in our blood and the air we breathe. It is why the sky is blue and the atmosphere is stable.

Humanity’s very existence depends on nitrogen. Over time, we have learned how to harness its power. Pulling nitrogen from the air and fixing it in soil is one reason why the human population has expanded so rapidly. The huge increase in food production during the Green Revolution would not have been possible without nitrogen fertilizer.

What is the nitrogen problem of the world?

This extraordinary usefulness has come at a terrible cost. Our failure to use nitrogen efficiently is polluting the land, air and water. Nitrogen waste, which is result of inefficient use, is responsible for major global environmental crisis like climate change, air pollution, ozone depletion, loss of aquatic biodiversity and land degradation.

The nitrogen compounds released when we burn fossil fuels are responsible for as much as 50 percent of the deadliest type of air pollution, the tiny particles that lodge deep inside our lungs. When we burn fossil fuels, we also release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This doesn’t just heat up the world faster; it is also the main cause of ozone depletion.

Roughly 80 percent of the synthetic nitrogen we use as fertilizer to grow food goes to waste. Much of this wasted nitrogen leaks into our rivers, lakes and seas, feeding algal blooms that deplete oxygen and destroy life. These “dead zones” have quadrupled in size since 1950. We also need to be very clear about the impact of the nitrogen challenge on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals because whether its land, food security, biodiversity, pollution or water quality, nitrogen impacts each and every one of them.

Why is there a need for sustainable nitrogen management?

Despite this pivotal role of nitrogen problem in various environmental problems as mentioned above it has so far received little attention outside scientific circles. Part of the problem is a lack of awareness among policymakers and the public. That’s why the sustainable nitrogen management is so crucial. This is going to raise nitrogen up on the agenda which is need of the hour. Once we have grabbed the world’s attention there is so much that can be done.

What is sustainable nitrogen management (SNM)?

It is not nitrogen but its excess, inefficient use and waste that is problem. SNM means to improve the performance of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, increase the use of organic fertilizers, and boost the recycling of nutrients from agriculture. Reducing consumption of meat and dairy and dramatically cutting the amount of food we waste would also lower the nitrogen needs of the agricultural sector. We would need to reduce nitrogen emission from industry, transport and agriculture.

What is Colombo declaration on sustainable nitrogen management?

The member states of United Nations endorsed a proposed road map for action on nitrogen challenges called Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management.

  1. The aim of the Declaration is to halve nitrogen waste by 2030. This would lead to immediate benefits in the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss and air pollution. It would also lead to US$100 billion in savings and foster innovation in sectors like farming, energy and transport.
  2. It calls upon UN agencies, other international organizations, development partners, philanthropic agencies, academic and civil society organizations to support its implementation.
  3. It urges countries to conduct a comprehensive assessment on nitrogen cycling covering policy, implementation, regulation, and scientific aspects at a national level plus sensitize the citizens to understand the natural nitrogen cycle and how human impacts alter its balance.

The Colombo Declaration has been developed with the technical support of the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS), a joint activity of the UNEP and the International Nitrogen Initiative supported by the Global Environment Facility.

What are the SDG goals linked to SNM?

  1. Goal 3 Good Health and Well-Being
  2. Goal 7 Affordable and Clean Energy
  3. Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  4. Goal 12 Sustainable Consumption and Production
  5. Goal 13 Climate Action
  6. Goal 17 Partnerships for the Goals