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Nitrogen (N) budgets of agricultural systems give important information for assessing the impact of N inputs on the environment, and identify levers for action.
N budgets of agro-ecosystems in the 27 EU countries are established for the year 2000, considering N inputs by fertiliser application, manure excretion, atmospheric deposition and crop fixation, and N outputs by plant uptake, gaseous emissions, mineralisation, leaching and runoff.
Country N budgets for agro-ecosystems are based on the models INTEGRATOR, IDEAg, MITERRA and IMAGE. Fine geographic distribution is depicted with the former two models, which have higher spatial resolution. INTEGRATOR is the only available model for calculating non-agricultural terrestrial N budgets systems.
Key findings/state of knowledge
For EU-27, the models estimate a comparable total N input in European agriculture, i.e. 23.3–25.7 Mton N yr−1, but N uptake varies largely from 11.3–15.4 Mton N yr−1, leading to total N surpluses varying from 10.4–13.2 Mton N yr−1. Despite this variation, the overall difference at EU-27 is small for the emissions of NH3 (2.8–3.1 Mton N yr−1) and N2O (0.33–0.43 Mton N yr−1) but estimates vary largely at a regional scale. The estimated sum of N leaching and runoff at EU-27 is roughly equal to the sum of NH3, N2O and NOx emissions to the atmosphere, but estimates vary by a factor two, from 2.7 to 6.3 Mton N yr−1.
Europe, and especially the European Union (EU), has many governmental policy measures aimed at decreasing unwanted reactive nitrogen (Nr) emissions from combustion, agriculture and urban wastes. Many of these policy measures have an ‘effects-based approach’, and focus on single Nr compounds, single sectors and either on air or waters.
This chapter addresses the origin, objectives and targets of EU policy measures related to Nr emissions, considers which instruments are being used to implement the policies and briefly discusses the effects of the policy measures.
The chapter starts with a brief description of the basic elements of governmental policy measures.
A review of the main international conventions and EU policies related to emissions of Nr to air and water is then provided.
Finally the chapter provides a semi-quantitative assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of European policy measures.
Key findings/state of knowledge
International conventions and other treaties have played a key role in raising awareness and establishing policy measures for Nr emissions abatement in EU through so-called Directives and Regulations.
There are many different EU Directives, often addressing individual Nr compounds from individual sectors (e.g. NOx emissions from combustion; NH3 emissions from agriculture, pollution of groundwater and surface water by nitrates from agriculture, discharge of total nitrogen from urban sewage to surface waters).
Most regional watersheds in Europe constitute managed human territories importing large amounts of new reactive nitrogen.
As a consequence, groundwater, surface freshwater and coastal seawater are undergoing severe nitrogen contamination and/or eutrophication problems.
A comprehensive evaluation of net anthropogenic inputs of reactive nitrogen (NANI) through atmospheric deposition, crop N fixation, fertiliser use and import of food and feed has been carried out for all European watersheds. A database on N, P and Si fluxes delivered at the basin outlets has been assembled.
A number of modelling approaches based on either statistical regression analysis or mechanistic description of the processes involved in nitrogen transfer and transformations have been developed for relating N inputs to watersheds to outputs into coastal marine ecosystems.
Key findings/state of knowledge
Throughout Europe, NANI represents 3700 kgN/km²/yr (range, 0–8400 depending on the watershed), i.e. five times the background rate of natural N2 fixation.
A mean of approximately 78% of NANI does not reach the basin outlet, but instead is stored (in soils, sediments or ground water) or eliminated to the atmosphere as reactive N forms or as N2.
N delivery to the European marine coastal zone totals 810 kgN/km²/yr (range, 200–4000 depending on the watershed), about four times the natural background. In areas of limited availability of silica, these inputs cause harmful algal blooms.
Environmental problems related to nitrogen concern all economic sectors and impact all media: atmosphere, pedosphere, hydrosphere and anthroposphere.
Therefore, the integration of fluxes allows an overall coverage of problems related to reactive nitrogen (Nr) in the environment, which is not accessible from sectoral approaches or by focusing on specific media.
This chapter presents a set of high resolution maps showing key elements of the N flux budget across Europe, including N2 and Nr fluxes.
Comparative nitrogen budgets are also presented for a range of European countries, highlighting the most efficient strategies for mitigating Nr problems at a national scale. A new European Nitrogen Budget (EU-27) is presented on the basis of state-of-the-art Europe-wide models and databases focusing on different segments of Europe's society.
From c. 18 Tg Nr yr−1 input to agriculture in the EU-27, only about 7 Tg Nr yr−1 find their way to the consumer or are further processed by industry.
Some 3.7 Tg Nr yr−1 is released by the burning of fossil fuels in the EU-27, whereby the contribution of the industry and energy sectors is equal to that of the transport sector. More than 8 Tg Nr yr−1 are disposed of to the hydrosphere, while the EU-27 is a net exporter of reactive nitrogen through atmospheric transport of c. 2.3 Tg Nr yr−1.
The largest single sink for Nr appears to be denitrification to N2 in European coastal shelf regions (potentially as large as the input of mineral fertilizer, about 11 Tg N yr–1 for the EU-27); however, this sink is also the most uncertain, because of the uncertainty of Nr import from the open ocean.
The future effects of nitrogen in the environment will depend on the extent of nitrogen use and the practical application techniques of nitrogen in a similar way as in the past. Projections and scenarios are appropriate tools for extrapolating current knowledge into the future. However, these tools will not allow future system turnovers to be predicted.
In principle, scenarios of nitrogen use follow the approaches currently used for air pollution, climate, or ecosystem projections. Short-term projections (to 2030) are developed using a ‘baseline’ path of development, which considers abatement options that are consistent with European policy. For medium-term projections (to 2050) and long-term projections, the European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) applies a ‘storyline’ approach similar to that used in the IPCC SRES scenarios. Beyond 2050 in particular, such storylines also take into account technological and behavioral shifts.
Key findings/state of knowledge
The ENA distinguishes between driver-oriented and effect-oriented factors determining nitrogen use. Parameters that cause changes in nitrogen fixation or application are called drivers. In a driver-based approach, it is assumed that any variation of these parameters will also trigger a change in nitrogen pollution. In an effect-based approach, as the adverse effects of nitrogen become evident in the environment, introduction of nitrogen abatement legislation requiring the application of more efficient abatement measures is expected. This approach needs to rely on a target that is likely to be maintained in the future (e.g. human health). Nitrogen abatement legislation based on such targets will aim to counter any growth in adverse environmental effects that occur as a result of increased nitrogen application.
1. Gaseous di-nitrogen (N2) constitutes 78% of the earth's atmosphere. It is a rather inert chemical, being nearly unavailable for the biological cycle. The other nitrogen forms are much more reactive; these include nitrate (NO3−), ammonium (NH4+) and ammonia (NH3), gaseous nitrogen oxides (NOx), nitrous oxide (N2O) and many other inorganic and organic nitrogen forms. Collectively, they are termed ‘reactive nitrogen’ (Nr). They are normally scarce in natural environments, with their low availability limiting the productivity of natural ecosystems. This was also the case for agricultural production before 1900, which long remained dependent on the recycling of Nr in human waste and manure, and the capacity of legumes to fix atmospheric N2 biologically.
2. With a growing human population through the nineteenth century and the need for more Nr, Europe increasingly operated a ‘fossil nitrogen economy’, dependent on the addition of nitrogen fertilizers from mined sources, including from guano, coal and saltpetre. The ‘nitrogen problem’ of the time was that these sources were fast becoming insufficient to meet Europe's escalating need for fertilizer Nr, and its military need for Nr in explosives [1.1].
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