• Eighteen research institutions in India are among a group of 50 institutions — called the South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH) — in the United Kingdom and South Asia that have secured £20 million (about ₹200 crore) from the U.K. government to assess and study the quantum and impact of “nitrogen pollution” in South Asia.
  • While nitrogen is the dominant gas in the atmosphere, it is inert and doesn’t react.
  • However, when it is released as part of compounds from agriculture, sewage and biological waste, nitrogen is considered “reactive”, and it may be polluting and even exert a potent greenhouse gas (heat trapping) effect.
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O) is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide but isn’t as prevalent in the atmosphere.
  • However, this is poised to grow
  • In the future, reactive nitrogen pollution will be a matter of significant global discussion and, unlike carbon, India and South Asia cannot wake up at the last minute, realising that it has no updated, scientific assessment of its inventory.
  • Other than air pollution, nitrogen is also linked to the loss of biodiversity, the pollution of rivers and seas, ozone depletion, health, economy, and livelihoods.
  • Nitrogen pollution is caused, for example, by emissions from chemical fertilisers, livestock manure and burning fossil fuels. Gases such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) contribute to poor air quality and can aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, leading to millions of premature deaths across the world. Nitrate from chemical fertilisers, manure and industry pollutes the rivers and seas, posing a health risk for humans, fish, coral and plant life
  • NOx emissions grew at 52% from 1991 to 2001 and 69% from 2001 to 2011.
  • Though agriculture remained the largest contributor to nitrogen emissions, non-agricultural emissions of nitrogen oxides and nitrous oxide were growing rapidly, with sewage and fossil-fuel burning — for power, transport and industry — leading the trend.
  • The SANH will study the impacts of the different forms of pollution to form a “coherent picture” of the nitrogen cycle.
  • In particular, it will look at nitrogen in agriculture in eight countries — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives.
  • High doses of fertiliser input of nitrogen to agriculture combined with low nitrogen-use efficiency means that research on nitrogen pollution must be a priority for South Asia.
  • This is emphasised by the scale of nitrogen subsidies across South Asia at around $10 billion per year.
  • Better nitrogen management will have huge economic and environmental benefits.