June 29, 2022
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    Sri Lanka leads United Nations to resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management

    March 03, 2022

    At the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA5) in Nairobi this week, UN Member States from around the world have agreed to accelerate efforts to tackle the global nitrogen challenge by 2030 and beyond.

    The ‘Resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management’ has been proposed by Sri Lanka and was co-sponsored by Brazil, Maldives, Pakistan and Uganda, championing the cause for sustainable nitrogen use on Planet Earth. The resolution was adopted by UN Member States today, Wednesday 2 March.

    Emphasising the importance of the nitrogen challenge, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka said: “One of the key issues that Sri Lanka and some other countries rightfully draw attention to is that of Sustainable Nitrogen Management. Nitrogen is an abundant element that is essential to the sustenance of living things. However, overuse of nitrogen has adverse impacts on soil, water, air and human health.”

    Across much of Europe, Asia and the Americas, excessive nitrogen flows are multiplying pollution problems, such as through too much use of fertilizers and livestock manures, poor sewage management and emissions to the air of nitrogen oxides from vehicles. Other regions struggle with accessing sufficient nitrogen for farming, limiting food production and risking soil degradation.

    As Sri Lanka Environment Minister, Mahinda Amaraweera commented: “Nitrogen is a big issue for our planet that has been ignored for too long. Our human activities are producing reactive nitrogen compounds at an unprecedented rate. We need reactive nitrogen for food and energy, but we are wasting too much at huge cost to environment, climate, health and economy.”

    The new resolution is innovative in bringing views together. Instead of focusing on reducing nitrogen use, the resolution looks to reduce the amount of nitrogen resources that is wasted. Reducing nitrogen waste means that limited nitrogen resources can go further to better contribute to food supply. At the same time, the resolution points to opportunities for recovering nitrogen resources. Examples include improving the recovery and reprocessing of nutrients in wastewater streams for application in agriculture, as well as good management of organic manure to minimize runoff, leaching and volatilization. Another opportunity is to prevent the loss of valuable nitrogen resources to landfills, and instead use these resources to contribute to a circular economy.

    The resolution itself emerges from thinking developed in the Colombo Declaration, adopted by its signatories on United Nations Day, 24 October 2019. The draft Resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management proposed by Sri Lanka sought to follow the Colombo Declaration with ambition to halve nitrogen waste by 2030, and move towards establishment of an inter- governmental coordination mechanism on nitrogen policies.

    The UNEA resolution adopted today takes the next steps toward these goals, agreeing to: “Encourage member states to accelerate actions to significantly reduce nitrogen waste globally by 2030 and beyond through the improvement of sustainable nitrogen management.” The urgency for reducing nitrogen waste by 2030 reflects this as the decade for action towards the UN Sustainable Development goals. This is the first time that this urgency to reduce nitrogen waste has been enshrined in a global intergovernmental agreement.

    The resolution requests the UNEP Executive Director to “identify possible modalities for the options being considered for improved coordination of policies across the global nitrogen cycle at the national, regional and global levels, including among other options, for an intergovernmental coordination mechanism on nitrogen policies.” The aim is to better support Member States, with a more ‘joined-up’ approach to nitrogen than has been available in the past. The draft resolution was prepared by the Ministry of Environment of Sri Lanka, with the support of the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS).

    Sri Lanka Environment Secretary, Dr. Anil Jasinghe emphasized: “I am humbled at this time that the UNEP member countries supported this resolution. It is an innovative resolution where we don’t talk of reduction of using nitrogen, we talk of reduction of wasted reactive nitrogen. The resolution gives some liberty for member countries to come up with their National Action Plans for sustainable nitrogen management. The resolution also talks of an intergovernmental coordination mechanism, where we can further develop these actions, relevant for arable and livestock farmers, waste management and vehicle emissions.” He added: “The resolution itself is a tool for mobilisation. Globally, we could save US$100 billion annually by reducing nitrogen waste.”

    Ministry of Environment, Director of International Relations, Ms Janaki Amaratunge, emphasized: “The resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management builds on the Colombo Declaration ambition to halve nitrogen waste by 2030. The agreed language ‘to significantly reduce nitrogen waste by 2030 and beyond’ is a major step towards this goal”. The Permanent Representative to UNEP and High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in Kenya, Velupillai Kananathan, played a pivotal role in bringing the support of UNEP Member States to the resolution. As His Excellency Kananathan noted: “We want to see nitrogen as a friend not a foe! Let’s maximize its benefits for food production, while reducing the amount of nitrogen that is wasted. I see great business opportunities in saving this precious resource, while at the same time promoting cleaner air, water and climate resilience”.

    Cooperating with Sri Lanka on this challenge, Prof Mark Sutton, Director of the GEF/UNEP project, ‘Towards an International Nitrogen Management System’ (INMS), commented: “If you can smell your manure heap, it means it is already losing its goodness to the atmosphere! It is much better to cover all manure resources, keeping volatile nitrogen compounds where we want them: helping farmers to maximize crop yields.” He added that there are wide range of options for better nitrogen management, which the UNEA resolution will help to mobilize with Member States in the years ahead.
    Notes for Editors

     The concept of “nitrogen waste” can be seen as “pollution plus”: it means all the lost nitrogen pollution forms, plus the reconversion of reactive nitrogen compounds to pure atmospheric nitrogen (N 2 ), which is also a waste of useful nitrogen resources. The idea of “nitrogen waste” reflects this waste of money, with global nitrogen waste estimated to have a fertilizer value worth US$ 200 billion per year.

     The resolution also agrees to “Encourage member states to share information on national action plans as available according to national circumstances.” This highlights the opportunity to coordinate across government ministries in mobilizing practises for sustainable nitrogen management. The resolution also requests the UNEP Executive Director to: “Support Member States, upon their request, in the development of national action plans for sustainable nitrogen management”.

     The UNEP Resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management has been developed with the support of the GEF/UNEP project “Towards an International Nitrogen Management System”, and the GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub, which are led by Prof Sutton and his team at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, in Edinburgh, Scotland.

     Sri Lanka was represented at UNEA5.2 and [email protected] Special sessions by Minister for Environment Mahinda Amaraweera, Secretary to the Environment Ministry Dr. Anil Jasinghe, High Commissioner V. Kananathan, and Environment Ministry Director of International Relations, Janaki Amaratunge, with technical support from Prof. Sutton and Prof. S.P. Nissanka of the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

    Mohan Samaranayake
    Director General of Government Information





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