Keywords: Environmental impacts, food production, integrated policy, management, nitrogen use efficiency, policy.
People are radically altering the world’s nitrogen cycle through our food and energy production systems, resulting in excess nitrogen polluting Earth’s air, water, and land and therewith influencing climate, ecosystems, biodiversity and human health. The global rate of nitrogen fixation has increased 1.5 to 2 times the natural amount as a result of human activities in the past 50-100 years. Nitrogen compounds affect the quality of drinking water, and contribute to air pollution as well as climate change, affecting life quality and the health of large parts of the population. The nitrogen issue is a complex one, intertwined with many interactions. Nitrogen pollution is a transboundary, multimedia, multi-source, and multi-effect problem, all of which are manifested in a cascade of environmental effects. There is strong evidence of nitrogen impacts in coastal zones, in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, on biodiversity, in the atmosphere, and in the stratosphere. Less is known about the relationship with human health, as related to air and water, and within the cascade. In areas where there is shortage, humans experience malnutrition, and solving this issue without further accelerating the nitrogen cascade presents a challenge. There is an urgent need for development of quantitative relationships between N sources and N effects to support effective policy development. Knowledge about sources and effects of N in regions with excess amounts, in combination with a synthesis of information from regions grappling with deficiencies, will greatly assist in the development of policies that minimise the negative effects of increased N while maximising the benefits of increased N in the future. Future reactive nitrogen production is expected to grow due to the population growth, changes in diets and biofuel production. Increased nitrogen use efficiency will probably not counteract this growth and interventions are needed to decrease the already clear visible impacts.
Jan Willem Erisman1,2
1 Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, ECN, P.O. Box 1, 1755 ZG Petten, The Netherlands.
2 Department of Earth Sciences, VU Free University Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
24 pages, 6 figures, 2 tables, 37 references.