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Global Challenges for Nitrogen Science-Policy Interactions: Towards the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS) and Improved Coordination Between Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements

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Just Enough Nitrogen

Abstract

Human interference with the nitrogen cycle has doubled reactive nitrogen inputs to the global biosphere over the past century, leading to changes across multiple environmental issues that require urgent action. Nitrogen fertilizers and biological nitrogen fixation have allowed benefits of increased crop harvest and livestock production, while in some areas there is insufficient nitrogen to fertilize crops. Whether in excess or deficit, nitrogen losses from its inefficient use are causing a combination of freshwater and marine pollution, air pollution, alteration of climate balance, stratospheric ozone loss, biodiversity loss and reduction of soil quality. The resulting nitrogen pollution affects human health, well-being and livelihoods. Scientific efforts have begun to bring these issues together. However, there is still a high degree of fragmentation between research on the different benefits and threats of reactive nitrogen and between the respective policy frameworks, especially at the global scale. We argue that a more joined-up approach to managing the global nitrogen cycle is needed to develop the ‘gravity of common cause’ between nitrogen issues and to avoid policy trade-offs. We describe how a coherent system for science evidence provision is being developed to support policy development through the ‘International Nitrogen Management System’ (INMS). There is now a matching challenge to bring together the multiple policy agreements relevant for nitrogen as a foundation to address synergies/trade-offs and to set priorities. Based on review of existing frameworks, we outline the concept for an Interconvention nitrogen coordination mechanism. This could make a major contribution to multiple Sustainable Development Goals by stimulating the next generation of international nitrogen strategies: maximizing the benefits of efficient nitrogen use, while minimizing its many environmental threats.

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Acknowledgements

This chapter is a contribution from the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI), a joint activity of SCOPE and Future Earth. The authors gratefully acknowledge support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in funding ‘Towards INMS’, and from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), International Opportunities Fund for its funding of the ‘INMS Pump Priming’ project. We thank the UK Biological and Biotechnological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Indian Department of Biotechnology (DBT) for funding the NEWS India-UK virtual joint centre on agricultural nitrogen, the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for support of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) South Asian Nitrogen Hub, and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology for support through its SUNRISE and wider National Capability programs. We express our thanks to the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) and the governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for their support in developing and championing the resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management adopted by the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) and in establishment of the South Asian Nitrogen Hub. We thank David Hooper and Jana Compton for their detailed reviews of this chapter.

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Sutton, M.A. et al. (2020). Global Challenges for Nitrogen Science-Policy Interactions: Towards the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS) and Improved Coordination Between Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements. In: Sutton, M.A., et al. Just Enough Nitrogen. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-58065-0_36

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