This report draws attention to the multiple benefits and threats of human nutrient use. It highlights how nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers are estimated to feed half the human population alive today, and how they will remain critical in the future, especially given increasing population and potential bioenergy needs. Yet high nutrient use has created a web of pollution affecting the environment and human health, while insufficient access to nutrients has led to soil degradation, causing food insecurity and exacerbating loss of natural ecosystems. The report shows how these problems cross all global change challenges, threatening water, air and soil quality, climate balance, stratospheric ozone and biodiversity.
The risk of depleting global phosphorus sources over the next century is examined and concluded to be much less than suggested by some previous publications. Remaining risks concern the distribution of available nutrient reserves and the long-term needs of humanity (including for potassium, zinc and other nutrients), all of which support the environmental and food-security case for better nutrient stewardship.
Ten key actions are identified that would help maximize nutrient benefits for humanity, while minimizing the many threats. Improving nutrient use efficiency across the full supply chain is identified as a shared challenge for all countries that links these key actions, while contributing to the Green Economy.
Examples of current national and regional nutrient policies are illustrated showing many positive actions. However, it is concluded that a more joined-up approach addressing the ‘Nutrient Nexus’ would be expected to deliver substantial synergies, motivating common action while minimizing trade-offs.
The report highlights that there is still no intergovernmental framework to address the multiple challenges for nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients. A blueprint for such a framework is outlined, considering the institutional options. The potential for net economic benefits is illustrated by estimating the consequences of meeting a common aspirational goal to improve nutrient use efficiency by 20% by the year 2020.