2% of global emissions come from fertiliser

Synthetic nitrogen-based compounds used to spray crops make up a sizeable chunk of all global greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

New research as been unveiled by the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter, showing the true extent of the emissions and air quality problem caused by specific types of fertiliser. 

garden sprinkler turned on

Synthetic nitrogen based varieties now account for 2.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Worryingly, the nitrous oxide (NO2) they release is 265 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) over the course of a century. 

Working with the University of Turin, the Exeter team found that 1.13 gigatonnes of CO2 was produced in 2018 from the fertiliser supply chain, making up one-tenth of the overall agricultural emissions, and more than the entire aviation industry in the same year. A shocking figure given critics recently called for a dramatic rethink on air travel due to its consistently poor – and, in many cases, worsening – environmental record. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are huge differences in regional contributions to fertiliser-related emissions. China, India, the USA and EU28 (all European Union member states, plus the UK) collectively pump out 62% of the total. 

“There is no doubt that emissions from synthetic nitrogen fertilisers need to be reduced – instead of increasing, as is currently predicted,” said Dr Reyes Tirado, from the Greenpeace Research Laboratories. ‘The global agri-food system relies on synthetic nitrogen to increase crop yields, but use of these fertilisers is unsustainable.

‘Emissions could be reduced without compromising food security. At a moment when synthetic fertiliser prices are skyrocketing, mirroring the energy crisis, reducing their use could both benefit farmers and help us tackle the climate crisis,’ she added.

Read our recent feature on how air pollution affects food production, and how we can fix it. 

Image: Philip Junior Mail



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1 year ago

Please can titles that say ’emissions’ also say what kind of emissions? You tell us the 2 percent is about greenhouse gases and you talk about this coming from synthetic nitrogen based varieties of fertiliser. But what kind of gases, do you mean C02 or methane? And do these emissions give rise to secondary particles? A link to the study itself would help.Thank you.

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