Category: International organisations, Policies and measures

Developing a comprehensive approach to nitrogen in the UK

Aether, alongside project partners the Stockholm Environment Institute, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and Plantlife International, undertook a study for WWF of the nitrogen cycles and pathways in the UK and reviewed existing strategies and policies that could affect the balance of nitrogen in the environment.

The challenge

Whilst nitrogen is essential for life, excessive amounts of so called “reactive” nitrogen compounds (including nitrogen oxides, ammonia and nitrates) in the environment are harmful. These compounds can affect ecology, climate change, and air quality. The industrialisation of the UK’s food system, alongside the contribution of nitrogen emissions from other industry, transport, and wastewater treatment, have led to a large increase in emissions of reactive nitrogen. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) wanted to understand the impact of the UK’s current reactive nitrogen emissions, identify potential interventions, and set out priorities for policy as a response.

 
The solution

Aether, alongside project partners, contributed to a comprehensive review of the nitrogen cycle in the UK. We used our technical insight across sectors to highlight the primary sources of disruptive reactive nitrogen and potential interventions that would reduce their impact whilst helping to meet the “triple challenge” of food security, climate mitigation and reversing biodiversity loss. For this, we undertook a detailed literature review, combining our technical knowledge of emissions inventories and processes, before researching mechanisms and existing policy actions on a local, national, and international scale.

 
The result

The technical report was published by the WWF in 2022 and has been used as evidence within the WWF’s ‘Land of Plenty’ campaign, which calls on the UK’s central and devolved governments to consider the findings of our report and set out their own decarbonisation strategies for agriculture and land use.

The full technical report can be found here. 

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Richard German

Principal Consultant

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Alina Novikova, UN/ECE Secretariat

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