Developing countries bear brunt of nitrogen pollution: study

2016-01-26 05:37
Tiananmen Square smog

Tiananmen Square smog

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - The production of goods for consumers in rich nations leaves a deep footprint in the form of potentially-dangerous nitrogen pollution in developing countries, a study said on Monday.

Reactive nitrogen, generated in large part by fuel combustion and agriculture - mainly fertiliser use - can contribute to air and water pollution, climate change and acid rain.

A study in the journal Nature Geoscience said many developed nations had a sky-high nitrogen pollution "footprint" - much of it left far away in the developing world.

A "footprint" is the amount of reactive nitrogen emitted during the production, consumption and transportation of goods and services used in a particular country, regardless of where production took place.

"High-income nations are responsible for more than 10 times the emissions of the poorest nations," study co-author Arunima Malik of the University of Sydney said in a statement.

Emissions per person ranged from over 100kg per year in nations like Hong Kong and Luxembourg, to less than seven kilogrammes in Papua New Guinea, Ivory Coast and Liberia.

"These differences reflect wealthy consumers' preference for animal products and highly processed food," wrote the research team.

"We conclude that substantial local nitrogen pollution is driven by demand from consumers in other countries," they added.

The study claims to be the first to trace the flow of nitrogen emissions along international trade routes.

Nitrogen (N2) is a key building block of all life on Earth and is the most abundant element in the atmosphere - crucial for plant growth.

Diesel cars

Reactive nitrogen is a less stable form which binds with other chemicals to cause smog, for example, or nitrogen oxide - a poisonous gas belted out by diesel cars.

Based on a global trade database of 188 countries, the study showed the bulk of nitrogen emissions in 2010 came from industry and agriculture, which accounted for 161 teragrams, while 28 Tg was produced by consumers - mainly from sewage.

Consumption in the United States, China, India and Brazil, was responsible for nearly half the world's nitrogen pollution, they added.

Commenting on the paper, James Galloway of the University of Virginia and Allison Leach of the University of New Hampshire, pointed out that developed countries such as Japan, Germany, Britain and the US had a reactive nitrogen footprint "twice as large as the amount... directly released in their own countries."

There was much consumers could do to change the trend.

"For countries such as the United States, if consumers ate according to the national and international protein recommendations and reduced food waste by 50%, their total nitrogen footprint would decrease by over 35%," the duo wrote.

Read more on:    nature journal  |  pollution  |  environment

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.