ISSUE 11 - April 2018

The Nutrient Challenge – Promoting effective nutrient management, minimizing negative impacts on the environment and human health, while maximizing contribution to global sustainable development, food security & poverty reduction.


Toward the establishment of an International Nitrogen Management System (INMS): Scientists, policy makers and industry gather in Edinburgh, Scotland to discuss progress under the 'Towards INMS Project"

Participants at the 3rd Plenary meeting of GEF - INMS, Edinburgh, Scotland

Reactive forms of nitrogen are used by organisms to sustain life; it is an essential ingredient in the fertilizers we use to produce food for example, but is also generated from a wide range of activities in various forms; ammonia, nitrous oxide, nitrates, that may become emissions to atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial environments. “Reactive nitrogen can cascade through a variety of environmental systems, damaging them significantly and exacting a toll on human health. Reactive nitrogen is implicated in the high concentration of ozone in the lower atmosphere, the eutrophication of coastal ecosystems, the acidification of forests, soils, and freshwater streams and lakes, and losses of biodiversity. In the form of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, nitrogen contributes to global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion.” (source: INMS Project website)

The GEF-Toward an International Management System (INMS) Project convened its Third Plenary Session (INMS-3) in Edinburgh, Scotland over the 16 to 19 April 2018 at the Principal Hotel. The meeting was attended by science and policy experts from across the globe with responsibility for project execution, which is envisaged to contribute to strengthened 'joined-up' global management of reactive nitrogen across relevant sectors to tackle the problems of water, marine and atmospheric pollution. The discussions among the partners considered progress to date, and planning under the four components of the project; (1) Tools and assessment methods for the nitrogen cycle; (2) Global quantification of nitrogen flows, threats and benefits; (3) Regional demonstration of full nitrogen approach and (4) Awareness raising and knowledge sharing. Part of the discussions focused on the pathway to the development of a global policy arena for reactive nitrogen management and integrating this process with the fourth and fifth sessions of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).

The project is being implemented by UN Environment and executed by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH). The project is funded through a Global Environment Facility grant of US$6 million.

Participants at side events and plenary sessions

For more information see the project website at http://www.inms.international/. More photos from the meeting are posted on the GPNM Flicker photo album here.

Linking nutrient and wastewater pollution to degradation of coral reef ecosystems in Sri Lanka.

Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution from land-based sources. Compounding these effects are the influences of climate change particularly in terms of ocean acidification, along with the cumulative impacts of extreme events caused by climate change, such as coral bleaching, floods and tropical storms, and the chronic impacts of poor water quality; these are all additional drivers of reef degradation. The science is suggesting that corals exposed to excess nutrients, turbidity, sedimentation, pathogens or chemical pollutants are more susceptible to thermal stress or less able to survive a coral bleaching episode.

© Glenn Edney / grida.no

Sri Lanka is among the countries in the tropical oceanic belt that is blessed with ecologically diverse coral reefs that provide significant benefits in terms of ecosystems services to the country’s natural capital. As with many regions of the globe, the country and the wider south-Asia region, have been witnessing degradation of reefs due to man-induced influences such as sedimentation, decreased salinity due to changes in flow patterns, and polluting agricultural and wastewater runoff, including bleaching.

UN Environment and the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) along with local agencies including the Marine Environmental Prevention Authority, the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment and the University of Peridinya are collaborating on an initiative to reduce the risk of degradation of the Kayankerni and Paskudah coral reef ecosystems by addressing nutrient, wastewater and other land-based sources of marine pollution. These coral reefs, situated off the eastern coast of the country near Batticaloa, have been noted to exhibit resilience to recent coral bleaching events, according them priority for protection with respect to potential roles in rehabilitative measures in adjacent reef ecosystems in the future. The project will include training and capacity building activities, along with awareness-raising for stakeholders engaged in the range of local economic activities from farming to fishing to tourism. The work will be focused within the Maduru Oya watershed, a major drainage basin that delivers potentially harmful pollutants to the Kayankerni and Paskudah reefs via the Valachchenai estuary.

Views within the Madura Oya watershed; land uses, activities and pollution from source to the sea

The project is expected to contribute to the ‘ridge-to-reef’ or ‘source-to-sea’ approach in addressing land based sources of pollution, through strengthening local and regional enabling environments to foster the uptake and adoption of innovative approaches in reducing threats to coral reefs from nutrient and wastewater pollution. The project is intended to serve as a demonstration case study to the wider South Asia region facilitated through South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP), supported by the Global Programme of Action and the Coral Reef Unit of UN Environment.

This project will complement global recognition of these threatened ecosystems and foster conservation actions under banner of the International Year of the Coral Reef (IYOR2018).

For more photos from the inception mission to Sri Lanka are at the GPNM Flickr photo site

Soil pollution - poorly understood, but has significant risk to human and ecosystem health

Panel discussion moderated by Mette Wilkie, UN Environment; at podium Abdelkader Bensada, UN Environment

At the Global Symposium on Soil Pollution (GSOP18) held at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome over the 2 to 4 May 2018 gathered more than 500 scientists, policymakers, the agrochemical production industry, soil remediation companies and land users associations working on different aspects of soil pollution. Experts agree that soil pollution is a hidden reality and that it affects the food we eat and the water we drink and at ecosystems at the broader level. The symposium went a significant way in gauging the state of knowledge among the scientific community on the status of soil pollution, however, there are significant knowledge gaps in many parts of the developing world where there is still much to be known about the health impacts of soil pollution on ecosystems and communities.

The symposium underscored that the resolution ‘Managing soil pollution to achieve sustainable development’ adopted by countries at the third session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA3) was a globally recognized and significant commitment to action on addressing soil pollution. In this regard, the UN Environment convened a side event during the symposium to discuss the pathway toward implementation on the UNEA3 resolution. One of the key outputs of the resolution is a report to be tabled by the 5th Session of UNEA (in 2021) on the extent and future trends of soil pollution, considering both point-source contamination and diffuse pollution, along with the risks and impacts of soil pollution on health, the environment and food security, including land degradation and the burden of disease resulting from exposure to contaminated soil.

Collaborators associated with the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) presented within a technical session titled ‘Case studies at global, national and regional scales’ that was moderated by Christopher Cox of UN Environment (GPNM Secretariat). Professor Nandula Raghuram of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, India presented on the Indian Nitrogen Assessment, Environmental Impacts and Sustainable Development; and Tom Bruulsema, International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) presented on Managing nutrients to mitigate soil pollution.

The symposium was co-convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and its Global Soil Partnership (GSP), the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), together with the Secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, the UN Environment and the World Health Organization (WHO).

©FAO/MatteoSala. Top left-right: Mette Wilkie, Director of Ecosystems Division, UN Environment; Eduardo Mansur, Director Land and Water Division (CBL), FAO. Bottom left - right: Tom Bruulsema, International Plant Nutrition Institute; Nandula Raghuram, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha UniversityInstitute;

More photos from the meeting are posted on the FAO Flicker photo album and the GPNM Flicker photo album. For more information on the Global Symposium on Soil Pollution (GSOP18), please refer to the symposium website.


News and Emerging Issues


REGION: North America

Legacy nitrogen may prevent achievement of water quality goals in the Gulf of Mexico

A study in Science: 27 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 427-430. Authors: K. J. Van Meter, P. Van Cappellen, N. B. Basu, University of Waterloo, Canada.

The Gulf of Mexico has been experiencing hypoxic conditions since 1985. The 'dead zone' that extends from the mouth of the Mississippi River into the Gulf, is among the largest in the world, which has varied in spatial extent from a 1988 minimum of less than 100 km2 to 22,729 km2, as observed in 2017. Excess fertilizer runoff from intensive agriculture along the Mississippi River has been attributed as a major cause for the problem in the Gulf as agricultural runoff leaches into the river and its tributaries, promoting algal growth that depletes oxygen, resulting in fish kills and degradation of marine ecosystems.

Left: Extent of distribution of bottom-water dissolved oxygen, July 24 – July 30, 2017 (black line denotes 2 mg/L). Source: N. N. Rabalais and R. E. Turner, Louisiana State University Right: Researcher carrying out water quality measurements. Source: US EPA

In 2001, the Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (WNTF) developed an action plan to reduce the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico to less than 5,000 km2 by 2015 which meant a required 60% decrease in nitrogen loading from the Mississippi River. However, by 2015 the hypoxia zone was three times larger than the anticipated extent, which has meant pushing the target year to 2035. A recent report suggests that a 60% in agriculture nitrogen use would help reduce eutrophication in the Gulf; however, this may take about 30 years for the Gulf to recover.

Model-predicted NO3-N export from the Mississippi River Basin under future scenarios. Source: K. J. Van Meter et al. 2018

The figure above shows that model-predicted nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) export from the Mississippi River Basin under future scenarios: (A) business as usual, and then (B) 25%, (C) 75%, and (D) 100% decreases in the agricultural nitrogen surplus. The green dashed lines represent mean nitrogen loading for the period 1980-1996, and the red dashed lines represent target nitrogen loading to achieve water quality goals for the Gulf of Mexico. For these scenarios, reductions in nitrogen loading ranging from 11 to 55% will be achieved. Note that under all scenarios, it takes approximately 30 years to reach new steady-state loading levels after the 2017 shift in management. Read the full journal article.

REGION: Europe

Contributed by Chris Thornton of the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform

Netherlands phosphorus emission trading approved

The European Commission launched a new trading system on 'Phosphate rights for daily cattle' in Netherlands. This system aims to improve water quality by limiting phosphate production from dairy cattle manure; and also support farmers with phosphate rights for free. Dairy farmers will be annually required to show the phosphate production from their cattle manure corresponding to the phosphate production rights they hold. The ultimate goal is to be able to harness on their land all the phosphate from manure production. For more information, see the article at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-5362_en.htm

Overview of phosphorus, nitrogen and health impacts

Clean drinking is a basic need for all. However, this has not been the case in most parts of the world. Nitrate mostly from agri-chemicals seem to penetrate into groundwater; while phosphorus affect the surface water. The presence of Nitrate and Phosphorus is said to not only degrade the environment but also impact human health. For example, exposure to high levels of nitrates causes "blue baby syndrome," a condition caused by lack of oxygen in infants. Thousands of cases of this condition have been reported worldwide since its initial diagnosis in 1945, and the current EPA standard 10 ppm has been set in order to protect infants from methemoglobinemia from excessive exposure to nitrate. For more information, download the report at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-94-024-1222-2_5

Using sewage sludge in organic agriculture

Agricultural use of sewage sludge entails transfer of heavy metals and pollutants to arable land, and regular application can elevate metal concentrations in soil to levels toxic to soil microorganisms and affect biological processes. A paper was developed on 'IMPROVE-P' assessment on the fertilizer value and contamination risk of using processed sewage sludge in agriculture. The report highlights that the fertilizer value of sewage sludge is similar to manure, but further work is needed to better understand changes on phosphorus availability resulting from anaerobic digestion and flocculation processes, and on how fertilizer effectiveness could be optimized by pelletisation and precision placement close to roots. In addition, further work is needed on different contaminants present in sewage sludge, including SCCPs (short chain chlorinated paraffin's), certain phthalate plasticisers, personal care and cleaning products (in particular triclosan), pharmaceuticals and antibiotics. The Copenhagen University long-term sewage sludge trials show that antibiotic resistance does appear in soil Pseudomonads, but that this naturally disappears three weeks after application. Several comprehensive risk assessments of sewage sludge use in agriculture are summarized. The conclusions is that heavy metals, organic contaminants and pharmaceuticals are all well below effect levels, but that further research is needed into different classes of organic contaminants in sewage sludge and into impacts of antibiotics. For more information, download the report at: http://orgprints.org/22629/1/22629.pdf

REGION: Latin America and the Caribbean

Toward a nutrient management strategy for the Caribbean Sea and Brazil Shelf region

The Caribbean Regional Seas in collaboration with the Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Strategic Action Plan Implementation Project (CLME+ Project) are to develop a Regional Strategy and Action Plan for the reduction of impacts from excess nutrient loads on marine ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea and the adjacent North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems.

Images: top: CLME+ Project; bottom: UN Environment Caribbean Environment Programme

The strategy and action plan will contribute to the implementation obligations of Member States under Land-based Sources of Marine pollution (LBS) Protocol of the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region. The strategy will identify ‘focal areas’ for high-priority action to address nutrient pollution; that is, the most critically affected ecosystem types and those most important in terms of socioeconomic impacts for the region. It is envisaged that the actions will be aligned to the regional Action Plans within the framework of established governance mechanisms, namely the LBS Protocol, and existing National Plans of Action (NPA) for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. It is anticipated that the strategy will be presented and adopted by the LBS Protocol Scientific Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) at its upcoming meeting later in 2018.

The initiative will build on the strategic directions and work plan elements agreed to by stakeholders within the scope of the Caribbean platform of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) and will also contribute to the work of the Global Wastewater Initiative (GW2I) hosted under the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association. The CLME+ Project is a 5-year project (2015-2020) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and co-financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). For more information on the CLME+ Project see the website. For more information on the issue of nutrient pollution management in the Caribbean see the Caribbean Environment Programme website.


GPNM Partners Corner


Nitrogen inputs to Agricultural Soils from Livestock Manure

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launches its report on Nitrogen inputs to Agricultural Soils from Livestock Manure

The report highlights the trends on the availability, distribution, use of livestock manure and loss of nitrogen in livestock manure for more than 200 countries between 1961 and 2016. Using official FAOSTAT livestock manure statistics, an analysis was compiled in accordance with the internationally approved methodologies of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2006 Guidelines). For example in Africa, the application of manure-N increased from 9 million tonnes in 1961 to 26 million tonnes in 2016. Synthetic fertilizer-N inputs increased 10-fold over the same period. Despite this huge increase, synthetic fertilizer-N inputs remain the lowest in the region.

The FAO continues consultation on development of a Code Conduct for Fertilizer Use and Management

The Global Soils Partnership (GSP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been developing a Code of Conduct for Fertilizer Use and Management. A working group meeting was convened at the FAO headquarters over the 7 to 9 May 2018 to review the current draft of the Code. The work is being led by Debra Turner, Agricultural Officer with the Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Debra also represents the FAO on the GPNM Steering Committee. For more information see the link on FAO’s website, or contact Debra.Turner@fao.org

The Nutrient Management Handbook now available in Chinese

The International Fertilizer Association (IFA) and the World Farmers Organization (WFO), in cooperation with The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA), have published the 'Nutrient Management Handbook'. This is a guidance document to farmers on how to boost productivity; achieve maximum yields and reduce the harmful gas emissions to the environment. The handbook has now been translated in Chinese. Available to download in English and Chinese

Register for the Nitrogen Massive Open Online Course (MOOC); 'Nitrogen: A Global Challenge'

The world's first Nitrogen MOOC, has been developed by the University of Edinburgh, a world-leader in MOOC development, in collaboration with the NEWS (Nitrogen Efficiency of Whole-cropping Systems) India-UK Project. This innovative online course, teaches the core concepts about nitrogen and global change, allowing learners to better understand the challenges and opportunities it represents. Key topics include food security, climate change, air pollution, water pollution, human health and more. The course launches on 29 May, 2018 and runs over a 5 week duration. Enroll at: https://www.edx.org/course/nitrogen-a-global-challenge


Upcoming Events



The Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) is a multi-stakeholder partnership comprising of governments, the private sector, the scientific community, civil society organizations and UN agencies committed to promoting effective nutrient management (with a focus on nitrogen and phosphorus) to achieve the twin goals of food security through increased productivity and conservation of natural resources and the environment. UN Environment (UNEP), through the Coordination Office of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), provides the Secretariat of GPNM.

Read more at: www.nutrientchallenge.org. To become a member of the GPNM, go to the following link to access the application at: https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/oceans-seas/what-we-do/addressing-land-based-pollution/global-partnership-nutrient-1


We look forward to your feedback! For more information, contact the GPNM Secretariat, c/o Global Programme of Action, UN Environment:

Email: christopher.cox@un.org / milcah.ndegwa@un.org

Website: http://web.unep.org/gpa/what-we-do/global-partnership-nutrient-management

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