A side event organized by the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) at the COP-15 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will highlight nitrogen’s role in climate change. The event organizers are calling for an immediate new assessment of nitrogen and climate which will identify innovative nitrogen management strategies for global climate change mitigation and associated co-benefits.
The organizers of the side event are the INI; CE;, the Ministry of Housing and Spatial Planning and Environment (VROM) of The Netherlands; the United Nations Environment Programme - Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (UNEP/GPNM); the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; SCOPE; the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme; COST; and the European Science Foundation Nitrogen in Europe Research Networking Programme (NinE-ESF).
On a planetary scale, human activities, especially fertilizer application, have more than doubled the amount of reactive nitrogen in circulation on land. This massive alteration of the nitrogen cycle affects climate, food security, energy security, human health and ecosystem health. The long-term consequences of these changes are yet to be fully realized, but the human impact on the nitrogen cycle has so far been largely missed in international environmental assessments, the organizers of the event said.
Nitrogen and climate interactions are not yet adequately included in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment process. There is an urgent need to assess the possibilities of nitrogen management for climate abatement and at the same time increase food security, while minimizing environmental and human health impacts. We believe that in tackling nitrogen new opportunities for climate abatement will be created.
—Dr Cheryl Palm, the chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI)
In October, team of climate scientists from eight US national labs and academic institutions successfully incorporated the nitrogen cycle into global simulations for climate change for the first time, questioning previous assumptions regarding carbon feedback and potentially helping to refine model forecasts about global warming. In this case, they found that the rate of climate change over the next century could be higher than previously anticipated when the requirement of plant nutrients are included in the climate model.(Earlier post.)
The INI team believes that it is essential to untangle the complexity of the nitrogen and carbon cycle, identify the advantages of nitrogen management for climate abatement and investigates the costs and barriers to be overcome. Such an assessment needs to distinguish between developed areas where there is already an excess of nitrogen and the developing parts of the world where nitrogen management can help increase food security. Improved Nitrogen management will help limit fertilizer use, increase its efficiency and increase carbon sequestration in soils, decrease N2O emissions, while limiting other environmental and human health impacts.
The nitrogen cycle is changing faster than that of any other element. In addition, the effects of reactive nitrogen are not limited to a single medium. A single molecule of reactive nitrogen may transition through many forms—ammonia, nitrogen oxide, nitric acid, nitrate and organic nitrogen—and may successively lead to a number of environmental, health and social impacts, including contributing to higher levels of ozone in the lower atmosphere.
Over the last decade a number of global, regional and national initiatives have identified and addressed the issue of nutrient enrichment to the coastal zone. However, programs are dispersed and fragmented and there is no single place to go for an overview of available information tools and mechanisms.
—Kilaparti Ramakrishna, Senior Advisor on Environmental Law and Conventions at UNEP
The side event “Options for Including Nitrogen Management in Climate Policy Development” will be held in the US center (Hall C5) from 6 pm local time. The event will be followed by a networking reception supported by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), United Kingdom.