VFRC Publications - Page 14

Understandably, the use of both N and P fertilizers has been identified as one of nine drivers that alters the geological state of the earth, from the stable geological era of the Holocene during the past 11,000 years to the human-impacting Anthropocene state of today, with unforeseeable implications for life on earth over the coming decades (Figure 5). Much of the N escapes as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Both N and P can also leak out from the soil into groundwater, streams and lakes, causing eutrophication that may kill fish and continue to flow into the sea, creating “dead zones” in coastal areas. Curtailing nutrient losses will, therefore, create far-reaching improvements to the functioning of the earth’s ecosystem, allowing it to stay within the safe operating space of our planetary boundaries. stratospheric ozone depletion.13 This will allow the assessment of the impact of fertilizer interventions on these drivers, revealing synergies and trade-offs with respect to food security and the environment, and will help to raise societal awareness about the urgency for innovative fertilizers. Whereas N and P have been identified as global drivers in this planetary boundary concept, the entire spectrum of nutrients affect life on earth, directly or indirectly, imposing the need for innovative fertilizers. Fertilizers are so impactful that they enable feeding of billions of people but also contribute to changing the geological state of planet earth. In contrast to overuse, the underuse of fertilizers leads to soil degradation. The associated loss of soil organic matter leads to emissions of greenhouse gases. Also, low yields result in encroachment into natural areas in search for new agricultural land, leading to loss of biodiversity.11 Moreover, the associated use efficiency of water at low yield levels is dismally low, leading to wasteful use of the already scarce water resources.12 Energy use by the fertilizer industry is about 1% of total global use, with the largest amount of energy gains expected from increased uptake efficiency and with that cutting down total fertilizer use. It is essential, therefore, to strike a sustainable balance for the use of N, P and any other nutrients contained in fertilizers, to operate within the planetary boundaries and human needs. VFRC is quantifying the impact of global N and P cycles to four other drivers of global change, namely, land-system change, biodiversity, climate change and Figure 5. Innovative fertilizers that increase uptake efficiency, mitigation of losses and enhanced recycling to curtail nutrient accumulations in ecosystems will significantly improve the health of the global ecosystem. 10