||Reactive nitrogen (Nr) plays a role in numerous environmental and human health
concerns, including climate change, eutrophication, acid rain, respiratory illness
While produced naturally, increased human creation of Nr, primarily through the creation
of nitrogenous fertilizer, is fueling a growing problem in today’s world. It is anticipated
that by 2050, humans will produce as much as eight times the current level of reactive
exacerbating these environmental and health concerns.
An issue that further complicates Nr management is the nature of Nr in the environment.
Reactive nitrogen is capable of cycling through many different forms and compounds
(NH3, NOx, N2O, etc.) before returning to the more stable state of N2. This property,
labeled the “nitrogen cascade” means that management of Nr pollution must occur simultaneously
multiple pollutants and in multiple media (atmospheric, aquatic, and terrestrial).
This also means that an international effort is needed to combat Nr pollution.
To date, international policies have been relatively ineffective in combating Nr pollution,
suffering from three main limitations: (1) geographic exclusion of developing countries,
where it is anticipated that the greatest growth in Nr pollution will occur, (2) lack
of enforceability, and (3) a lack of a multi-pollutant, multi-medium approach that
accounts for the nitrogen cascade.
Considering these limitations, this analysis recommends that the international community
develop a new global framework convention to combat reactive nitrogen. This convention
should use regional bodies as its action units, require the creation of national level
nitrogen emissions inventories, develop methods for sharing scientific information
and best practices, and establish international targets for the reduction of Nr pollution
in to the environment. However, there is a uniqueness to this problem that cannot
be understated; Nr is essential for much of the world’s food supply, causing this
problem to be a very delicate balancing act between meeting
growing human needs and mitigating damage to the natural environment.