Ambitious mitigation efforts, however, could decrease the pollution by 50 percent. The analysis is the very first to quantify this.
"Nitrogen is an irreplaceable nutrient and a true life-saver as it helps agriculture to feed a growing world population but it is unfortunately also a dangerous pollutant," says Benjamin Bodirsky, lead-author of the study. In the different forms it can take through chemical reactions, it massively contributes to respirable dust, leads to the formation of aggressive ground-level ozone, and destabilizes water ecosystems. Damages in Europe alone have been estimated at around 1-4 percent of economic output, worth billions of Euro. About half of these nitrogen pollution damages are from agriculture. This is why the scientists ran extensive computer simulations to explore the effects of different mitigation measures.
Both farmers and consumers would have to participate in mitigation
"It became clear that without mitigation the global situation may markedly deteriorate as the global food demand grows," says Bodirsky, who is also affiliated to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Colombia (CIAT). "A package of mitigation actions can reverse this trend, yet the risk remains that nitrogen pollution still exceeds safe environmental thresholds."
Only combined mitigation efforts both in food production and consumption could substantially reduce the risks, the study shows. Currently, every second ton of nitrogen put on the fields is not taken up by the crops but blown away by the wind, washed out by rain or decomposed by microorganisms. To reduce losses and prevent pollution, farmers can more carefully target fertilizer application to plants' needs, using soil measurements. Moreover, they should aim at efficiently recycling animal dung to fertilize the plants. "Mitigation costs are currently many times lower than damage costs," says co-author Alexander Popp.
"For consumers in dev
|Contact: PIK Press Office|
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)