Global nitrogen footprint map shows substantial nitrogen pollution in trade

The first-ever global nitrogen footprint, encompassing 188 countries, has found the United States, China, India and Brazil are responsible for 46 percent of the world’s nitrogen emissions. The economic modelling, which grouped the nitrogen footprint into top-ranking bilateral trade relationships, noted a trend for increased nitrogen production and found developed nations largely responsible for emissions abroad for their own consumption.

The international collaboration, led by the University of Sydney’s Integrated Sustainability Analysis team in the Faculty of Science, found developing countries tend to embody large amounts of nitrogen emissions from their exports of food, textiles and clothing. Australia is one of the few wealthy nations that is a net exporter of nitrogen, because of the substantial agriculture industry.

PhD candidate Ms Arunima Malik, who co-authored the paper with University of Sydney colleagues Professor Manfred Lenzen and Dr Arne Geschke, as well as two researchers from Yokohama National University and one from Kyushu University in Japan, said significant nitrogen net importers were almost exclusively developed economies.

“High-income nations are responsible for more than 10 times the emissions of the poorest nations,” Ms Malik said. “This reflects greater consumption of animal products, highly processed foods and energy-intensive goods and services.” The vast bulk of emissions came from industries such as agriculture, transport and energy generation. Emissions from consumers-end use were mostly from sewage.

Read the report in ScienceDaily website and the journal article in Nature Geoscience