A new Declaration that aims to reduce nitrogen waste in half by 2030 has been announced.
A two-day event in Sri Lanka, with support from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), saw member states adopt the so-called Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management.
As part of the Declaration, environment ministers and officials representing more than 30 countries endorsed UN plans for a campaign on sustainable nitrogen management called ‘Nitrogen for Life’.
While carbon provides the basic skeleton of organic matter on the planet, nitrogen allows that matter to take on different forms and roles – amino acids, proteins and DNA are all nitrogen compounds.
According to UNEP, nitrogen overuse has negative impacts on the planet, biodiversity and is a contributor to the climate crisis.
The nitrogen compounds released when burning fossil fuels are responsible for as much as 50% of the “deadliest type of air pollution, the tiny particles that lodge inside people’s lungs.
Burning fossil fuels also release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, which is also the main cause of ozone depletion.
Around 80% of the synthetic nitrogen used as fertiliser to grow food goes to waste, with much of this leaking into rivers, lakes and seas.
Joyce Msuya, UNEP Deputy Executive Director said: “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. Yet its usefulness has come at a terrible cost. Our failure to use nitrogen efficiently is polluting the land, air and water.
“The campaign we have launched here today is so crucial. If we are going to raise nitrogen up on the agenda then we need to sound the alarm loud and clear. Once we have grabbed the world’s attention there is so much that can be done. And there are promising signs that some nations are already starting to wake up to the problem,.”