Nitrogen Pollution Can Create Greenhouse Gases 300 Times More Potent Than CO2


Nov 6, 2019


An open letter by about 200 scientists to the U.N Secretary-General calls for urgent action against nitrogen pollution's 'devastating impact.' (Image Credit: Getty Images)

A group of 197 international scientists from 44 countries, including the U.K., U.S., Australia, India, Pakistan, and China, has written an open letter to António Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, calling for greater awareness about nitrogen pollution and the harm it is causing to human beings, wildlife, and the planet.

“The present environmental crisis is much more than a carbon problem,” write the scientists, in reference to widespread awareness about carbon dioxide being a greenhouse gas leading to global warming and large-scale climate change.

79% of our current air make-up is nitrogen, but when bonded with other elements, this unreactive gas can create chemical compounds that harm the environment. For example, compounds like ammonia, nitrogen dioxide, and nitrous oxide are polluting the air, soil, and water, having got there due to heavy wastage in the crop, meat, and dairy production, transportation, energy, manufacturing, and wastewater industries. 80% of the nitrogen used globally is wasted, which is about 200 million tons a year at the cost of US$200 billion (around Rs. 142 trillion).

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Some examples of nitrogen pollution include gases like ammonia and nitrogen dioxide, which contribute to poor air quality and aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, that can lead to premature death. Nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas, is a greenhouse gas that depletes the ozone layer and is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Another example is nitrates, commonly found in fertilizers, which pollute rivers, seas, soil, and poses a health risk for plants, fish, and human beings.

The open letter was written when environment ministers attended the launch of a U.N. Global Campaign on Sustainable Nitrogen Management in Colombo from October 23 to 24, 2019. The scientists also worked with Sri Lanka to develop a proposed, ambitious Colombo Declaration — which intends to make way for a new international agreement for countries to work together on, and eventually halve, nitrogen waste.

“If we want to beat climate change, air pollution, water pollution, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and stratospheric ozone depletion, then a new focus on nitrogen will be vital,” write the scientists.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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