Nitrogen pollution costs are revealed

Nitrogen pollution is costing every person in Europe up to £650 a year in damage to water, climate, health and wildlife, a major new study warned today.

Scientists behind the research said nitrogen was needed as fertiliser to help feed a growing world population - but suggested that eating less meat could reduce the amount of pollution caused by agriculture.

The report also suggests that with 60% of costs of the nitrogen damage stemming from fossil fuels burnt for energy generation and transport, more energy efficient homes and cutting long distance travel could also help tackle the problem.

More efficient use of fertilisers in food production is also needed, the report said.

However, the researchers stopped short of calling for a fertiliser tax to reduce the use of nitrogen in agriculture.

The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) chief scientist Professor Bob Watson, who welcomed the first assessment of the Europe-wide impacts of nitrogen, warned that higher costs as a result of a tax would be passed onto consumers.

The report by 200 experts from 21 countries warns that in Europe, the costs of nitrogen pollution on air, soils, water, increased greenhouse gases and damage to wildlife was between 70 billion euro and 320 billion euro a year (£62 billion-£282 billion).

The cost works out at between £130 and £650 a year for everyone in Europe.

Nitrogen contributes to air pollution that causes respiratory problems such as asthma and cancers in people and reduces life expectancy by six months across much of Europe.

Nitrates in water are bad for human health and damage wildlife including fish stocks. Nitrous oxide is also a greenhouse gas.

The environmental effects of nitrogen were estimated at 25 billion euro to 145 billion euro (£22 billion-£128 billion), compared with the 25 billion euro to 130 billion euro (£22 billion-£115 billion) benefits to agriculture fertilisers deliver.

Much of the nitrogen pollution from agricultural production is linked to meat and dairy farming, as the crops needed to feed them are grown with the help of fertilisers.

Dr Mark Sutton, of the UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: "The amount of livestock we choose to have is critical in determining the scale of impacts. The amount of animal protein we choose to eat is critical."

He said the environmental impact of livestock was not limited to the greenhouse gases given out by cows, with nitrogen used to grow crops to feed all farm animals also having an impact.

And in Europe, people were currently eating 70% more meat and dairy products than they needed for a healthy diet.

He said the report was not suggesting people become vegetarian, but they could cut down on meat - a "demitarian" diet - and that the conference to launch the study this week in Edinburgh would be serving half portions of meat.

Prof Watson said of the report: "Nitrogen is absolutely essential for human well-being. The challenge is how do we capture the benefits of nitrogen and minimise the impacts."

He said that in the UK nitrous oxides had been reduced by 60% since 1990 and there had been a reduction in the use of nitrogen fertilisers of nearly a fifth since 1998.

"Things are going in the right direction, but we do need to move faster to avoid this environmental damage," he warned.

The researchers said that the cost of putting in measures to tackle the problems of nitrogen pollution would be outweighed by the financial benefits the solutions would reap.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee