Assessing planetary and regional nitrogen boundaries related to food security and adverse environmental impacts

W. de Vries, J. Kros, C. Kroeze, S.P. Seitzinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

129 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This paper first describes the concept of, governance interest in, and criticism on planetary boundaries, specifically with respect to the nitrogen (N) cycle. These criticisms are then systematically evaluated. We argue that planetary N boundaries should include both the benefits and adverse impacts of reactive N (Nr) and the spatial variability of Nr impacts. We revise the planetary N boundary by considering the need to: first, avoid adverse impacts of elevated Nr emissions to water, air and soils, and second, feed the world population in an adequate way. The derivation of a planetary N boundary, in terms of anthropogenic fixation of di-nitrogen (N2) is illustrated by first, identification of multiple threat N indicators and setting limits for them; second, back calculating N losses from critical limits for N indicators, while accounting for the spatial variability of these indicators and their exceedance; and third, back calculating N fixation rates from critical N losses. The derivation of the needed planetary N fixation is assessed from the global population, the recommended dietary N consumption per capita and the N use efficiency in the complete chain from N fixation to N consumption. The example applications show that the previously suggested planetary N boundary of 35 Tg N yr-1 is too low in view of needed N fixation and also unnecessary low in view of most environmental impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)392-402
JournalCurrent Opinion in Environmental Sustainability
Volume5
Issue number3-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • critical loads
  • climate-change
  • forest ecosystems
  • reactive nitrogen
  • global assessment
  • european forests
  • deposition
  • nutrient
  • world
  • consequences

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