International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Signature INMS publication and documents coming soon

24 Oct 2023 | by
As the GEF/UNEP 'Targeted Research for improving understanding of the global nitrogen cycle towards the establishment of an International Nitrogen Management System (INMS)' project nears its completion, the project team together with partners and members of the INMS community are preparing important publications on global nitrogen assessment as well as guidance documents.

International Nitrogen Assessment

The International Nitrogen Assessment (INA) is a core output of INMS that will bring together evidence from across the Project in the form of a global assessment on nitrogen; including sources, flows impacts and solutions, cost-benefit analysis, examination of barriers and opportunities and a synthesis of emerging messages from regional activities. The INA is made up of 28 chapters across 5 Parts and is set to be published by Cambridge University Press (CUP) in 2024.

Progress on the development of the INA is well underway with the majority of chapters now either going through, or finishing, the external peer review process. Editor and author teams will then finalise chapters before submitting them to the Managing Editor team for further completion and submission to CUP. Work also continues on the Technical Summary and the Summary for Policymakers.

INMS Guidance Document Series

As the INMS project is coming to an end, it reaches its output stage, resulting in the publication of the INMS Guidance Document series later this year. This is a preview of three of these documents.

The Guidance Document on National Nitrogen Budgets explores the concepts and foundations of nitrogen budgets using the CHANS (Coupled Human and Natural Systems) model and the EPNB (Expert Panel on Nitrogen Budgets) approach with country examples. National nitrogen budgets provide the input necessary to derive valuable indicators such as nitrogen use efficiency, nitrogen surplus/deficit or nitrogen recycling rate.

The Guidance Document on Improving Nitrogen Management using Nitrogen Budgets for Dairy Farms looks at the inefficient conversion of nitrogen inputs into feed and from feed-nitrogen to milk, with the subsequent high nitrogen content of excreta. This results in various nitrogen transformations and loss pathways with a cascade of environmental impacts, including land, water and atmospheric pollution.

The Guidance Document on Nitrogen Impact Assessment Methods provides guidelines for assessing nitrogen impacts on the environment and humans at all scales, from local to regional to global. It describes impacts on greenhouse gases, human health, terrestrial ecosystems, agricultural products, aquatic ecosystems, cultural services, and non-agricultural products.

Read the Towards INMS Summer 2023 Newsletter to know more about the latest updates on international nitrogen management.

Why care about nitrogen?

The Nitrogen Paradox

Nitrogen is one of the five major chemical elements that are necessary for life. While nitrogen is the most abundant of these, more than 99% of it occurs as molecular nitrogen, or N2, which cannot be used by most organisms.  This is because breaking the triple bond holding the two nitrogen atoms together requires a large amount of energy, which can be mustered only through high-temperature processes or by a small number of nitrogen-fixing microbes.

Most living organisms can only make use of reactive nitrogen, which includes inorganic forms of nitrogen like ammonia, ammonium, nitrogen oxide, nitric acid, nitrous oxide, and nitrate, and organic compounds like urea, amines, proteins, and nucleic acids. It includes any nitrogen compound that is radiatively, chemically or biological active.

Upsetting the Balance

In the prehuman world, a small amount of usable reactive nitrogen was created from N2 by lightening and biological nitrogen fixation, but the spread of reactive nitrogen was held in check by denitrification, a process that converts reactive N back to N2.

This is no longer the case. Human beings have dramatically altered the nitrogen balance, breaking into the vast reservoir of molecular nitrogen and releasing reactive forms into the environment. We have done so by cultivating legumes, rice, and other crops that promote nitrogen fixation, by burning fossil fuels, and by transforming nonreactive atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia to sustain food production and some industrial processes.

During the last few decades, the global increase of reactive nitrogen by all human sources has far outstripped production from all natural terrestrial systems, and since the 1960s, the rate of increase has accelerated sharply.

Gains And Losses

This unprecedented growth in reactive nitrogen has impacted the health and welfare of people and ecosystems worldwide. On the positive side, approximately 40 percent of the world’s population is fed by crops sustained by human-induced formation of reactive nitrogen.

At the same time, this 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.

The connection with international waters is important because not only will better nitrogen management decrease water pollution, it will also deliver significant co-benefits such as improved air quality and decreased effects of climate change. 

The INMS project provides science-led support for policy development along with over 80 partners worldwide.

Know more about the GEF/UNEP INMS project.