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UN action to tackle nitrogen pollution

Staff Writer |
Professor Mark Sutton from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) will lead a new $60 million initiative on nitrogen management to boost the sustainability credentials of farming.

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The initiative aims to improve management of the nitrogen cycle, to reduce pollution to air and water sources, and boost biodiversity, which is affected by nitrogen pollution.

Although nitrogen is an essential element for life on earth, and about 80% of the air we breath is made up of unreactive nitrogen (N2), human activity has affected its natural cycling through the Earth’s ecosystems since the mid-nineteenth century.

Burning fossil fuels and emissions from agriculture are the largest source of nitrogen pollution. Emissions from farming come from overuse of fertilisers, or run-off into watercourses.

In water, reactive nitrogen can cause bacteria and algae to flourish, stripping oxygen and causing other creatures in the water to suffocate. Released into air, nitrogen compounds have a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Aiming to tackle this problem, Prof Sutton will head up a group being put together by the UN, alongside a number of scientific institutions. Called International Nitrogen Management System (INMS), the global initiative was launched on Monday at a meeting in Australia.

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