Nitrogen is essential to life - it is a building block of amino acids and therefore proteins, and it’s essential for soils and for growing food. Nitrogen, whether delivered in the form of mineral fertiliser, manure, compost or via the incorporation of nitrogen fixing legumes in crop rotations, is an essential input into agricultural production.
At the same time, nitrogen is a potent greenhouse gas, responsible for around 6% of global warming. When it comes to the food system, its contribution is more significant still, at around 16% of overall food related global warming (Tubiello F N et al 2021 Environ. Res. Lett. 16 065007). Its negative effects don’t end there however: surplus nitrogen pollutes soils, water and air, damaging fragile aquatic and land based ecosystems and causing multiple harm to human health.
Moreover, nitrogen’s impacts can be felt on different scales, making it an issue for local policy makers as well as for the global community. While nitrous oxide, as a greenhouse gas, is a problem affecting the whole world, other concerns are more context-specific. Some countries and farm systems suffer from the problems of excess nitrogen, including eutrophication and ammonia emissions, while others suffer from its insufficiency, the result being poor yields and hunger. So how can we get the balance right? How can we manage nitrogen at both the global and the local level in ways that minimise its harms while meeting our need for safe, nutritious food? Join TABLE for a panel discussion in which we:
- Highlight nitrogen’s role in the food system and its links to climate change
- Show how and why the food system is a major source of N2O emissions, highlighting particular foods whose production is responsible for particularly heavy impacts
- Highlight nitrogen’s other environmental impacts (e.g. eutrophication, ammonia)
- Discuss the pros and cons of the main forms in which nitrogen is delivered to soils - mineral fertiliser, manure, composts and legumes
- Consider the very different nitrogen requirements and concerns in the context of different countries - e.g. Sub Saharan Africa and the Netherlands.
- Consider the challenges and the solutions in the context of climate mitigation and our wider SDG goals. What are the options for reducing nitrogen emissions, both in terms of technical solutions and in the context of our overall goals for food system transformation? Do we need to apply, more, less or differently and where? How does dietary change fit in? And why do people disagree about how (and through what forms) we should meet our nitrogen needs while addressing our environmental problems?
Speakers: Ken Giller, Professor at Wageningen University & Research; Rasmus Einarsson, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Swedish Agricultural University; Pauline Chivenge, (formerly) Principal Scientist at the African Plant Nutrition Institute.
Chair: Dr Tara Garnett, Director of TABLE
The event will be held online and registration is available here.
To see the other events in the series, view this page.