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UN says fertiliser crisis is damaging the planet


Independent.co.uk, February 18th

Mass application of nutrients causes pollution in some areas while under-use hampers food production in others


The world is facing a fertiliser crisis, with far too little in some places, and far too much in others, a new report from the United Nations says today.
The mass application of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients needed for plant growth has had huge benefits for world food and energy production, but it has also caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health, causing toxic algal blooms, killing fish, threatening sensitive ecosystems and contributing to climate change, says the report, “Our Nutrient World”.
However, in some parts of the world, insufficient access to fertilisers remains the problem, and still hampers food production and contributes to land degradation – even while supplies of some nutrients such as phosphorus are more and more seen to be limited.
The report calls for a major global rethink in how fertilisers are used across the world, so that more food and energy can be produced while pollution is lessened rather than increased.
It suggests that the attention long given to carbon dioxide because of its role in global warming should now be given to nitrogen and phosphorus products, because their mass use is playing its own role in substantially affecting the planet.
- While recent scientific and social debate about the environment has focused especially on CO2 in relation to climate change, we see that this is just one aspect of a much wider and more complex set of changes occurring to the world’s biogeochemical cycles,” says the report. - In particular it becomes increasingly clear that alteration of the world’s nitrogen and phosphorus cycles represents a major emerging challenge that has received too little attention.
The lead author of the report is Professor Mark Sutton from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. He said:
- Our analysis shows that by improving the management of the flow of nutrients we can help protect the environment, climate and human health, while addressing food and energy security concerns.


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