Reactive nitrogen requirements to feed the world in 2050 and potential to mitigate nitrogen pollution

Nat Commun. 2014 May 13;5:3858. doi: 10.1038/ncomms4858.


Reactive nitrogen (Nr) is an indispensable nutrient for agricultural production and human alimentation. Simultaneously, agriculture is the largest contributor to Nr pollution, causing severe damages to human health and ecosystem services. The trade-off between food availability and Nr pollution can be attenuated by several key mitigation options, including Nr efficiency improvements in crop and animal production systems, food waste reduction in households and lower consumption of Nr-intensive animal products. However, their quantitative mitigation potential remains unclear, especially under the added pressure of population growth and changes in food consumption. Here we show by model simulations, that under baseline conditions, Nr pollution in 2050 can be expected to rise to 102-156% of the 2010 value. Only under ambitious mitigation, does pollution possibly decrease to 36-76% of the 2010 value. Air, water and atmospheric Nr pollution go far beyond critical environmental thresholds without mitigation actions. Even under ambitious mitigation, the risk remains that thresholds are exceeded.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crops, Agricultural / metabolism
  • Crops, Agricultural / supply & distribution*
  • Environmental Pollution / prevention & control*
  • Food Supply*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Population Growth*
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / supply & distribution*


  • Reactive Nitrogen Species