Global fertilizer issues need to be solved, according to UNEP report

A newly published report, commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme, states that humans have massively altered the natural flows of nutrients (substances which fertilize plant materials on land and in the oceans) and that urgent steps must be taken to reverse the resulting water and air pollution.

Subtitled ‘The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution’, the report ‘Our Nutrient World’ concludes that:

  • we have excessive use of nutrients in some regions and insufficient use in others.
  • everyone stands to benefit from nutrients and that everyone can make a contribution to promote sustainable production and use of nutrients.
  • without swift and collective action, the next generation will inherit a world where many millions may suffer from food insecurity caused by too few nutrients, where the nutrient pollution threats from too much will become more extreme, and where unsustainable use of nutrients will contribute even more to biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change.
  • with more sustainable management of nutrients, economies can play a role in a transition to a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.


Much of the report focuses on nitrogen and phosphorous nutrients, though nutrients of all types are also addressed. The authors urge

  • establishment of a global assessment process for nutrients.
  • development of an international  consensus on the operational indicators to record progress on improving nutrient use efficiency and reducing the adverse environmental impacts.
  • further investigation of options for improvement of nutrient use efficiency.
  • establishment of internationally agreed targets for improved N and P management.
  • quantification of the multiple benefits of meeting nutrient targets.

For individuals, the report recommends use of a tool, N-PRINT, to which a link is provided, to calculate an individual’s nitrogen footprint. Choices can then be made to help reduce our individual nitrogen footprint. According to the report a typical US resident has a nitrogen footprint nearly twice that of a Netherlands resident.

The report leaves open the question of whether such an international policy framework should focus on voluntary and aspirational agreements or should eventually develop legally binding commitments.

The 108 page report ‘Our Nutrient World’ is available at

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