Joint nitrogen and phosphorus management for sustainable development and climate goals

David R. Kanter, Will J. Brownlie

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement are possibly the two most important pieces of international environmental policy thus far this century. The SDGs set a number of socioeconomic and environmental targets to be achieved by 2030, and the Paris Climate Agreement provides a framework for the international community to stay below the 2 °C temperature threshold. Such a range of ambitious goals will require measures that can simultaneously address several issues and produce multiple co-benefits, from improved water quality to reduced food waste. A joint approach to reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is a prime example given their myriad impacts on the environment and human health. This study assesses the national climate plans of fifteen countries for language indicating a target or clear commitment that could involve improved N and P management. These countries represent 75% of both global greenhouse gas emissions and N and P consumption. We find that a joint approach could make important contributions to achieving all the national climate plans analyzed and 7 out of 17 SDGs. Joint abatement measures exist for wastewater, agriculture and consumer behavior. Challenges to a joint approach to nitrogen and phosphorus management include their role as essential nutrients and key differences in their availability and chemistry. Whilst there is currently insufficient integration between science, policies and practice on this issue, near-term policy opportunities exist. Looking forward, how humanity manages its relationship with these essential nutrients over the coming decades will be a key bellwether of whether sustainable development is truly achievable.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
    StatePublished - Feb 2019


    • Environmental Policy
    • Nitrogen
    • Paris Climate Agreement
    • Phosphorus
    • Sustainable Development Goals

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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