Nutrient pollution can lead to the growth of harmful algal blooms such as cyanobacteria also known as blue-green algae, pictured.
Skyrocketing fertilizer prices in recent months highlight importance of challenges outlined in major new report
Phosphorus is an essential but often overlooked resource, which is vital for life on Earth and is extracted from phosphate rock for use in crop fertilisers, livestock feeds and food additives. A major new report by scientists warns that global mismanagement of this finite nutrient is causing twin crises, brought into sharp focus with fertiliser prices skyrocketing in recent months.
Global food security remains threatened as many farmers struggle to afford sufficient phosphorus fertiliser for their crops. Meanwhile, overuse of fertilisers and sewage pollution pump millions of tonnes of phosphorus into lakes and rivers each year, damaging biodiversity and affecting water quality.
The Our Phosphorus Future report is the most comprehensive global analysis of the challenges and possible solutions to the phosphorus crisis to date. It has been written by a team of 40 international experts from 17 countries led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and the University of Edinburgh, and is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The report calls on governments across the world to adopt a ’50, 50, 50′ goal: a 50 per cent reduction in global pollution of phosphorus and a 50 per cent increase in recycling of the nutrient by the year 2050.
Recommendations in Our Phosphorus Future include:
- integrating livestock and crop production so phosphorus in animal manure is applied to crops, reducing the demand for chemical fertilisers;
- moving towards more sustainable diets, which would reduce the amount of phosphorus needed to grow animal feed;
- reducing global food waste, meaning less demand for crops and animal products, and therefore phosphorus (a recent UNEP report estimated global food waste from households, retail establishments and the food service industry totals 931 million tonnes each year);
- improving wastewater treatment to remove phosphorus from sewage, so it can be reused and does not enter lakes and rivers.
Only four countries* control around 70 per cent of the annual global production of phosphate rock from which phosphorus is extracted, leaving the market exposed to massive fluctuations in costs and supply due to political disputes, trade wars and escalating fuel prices. Since 2020, for example, the prices of both phosphate rock and fertiliser have increased by around 400 per cent, and continue to rise. This instability exacerbates the impacts of other global factors influencing fertiliser costs, such as the effect of the war in Ukraine on the cost of natural gas.
Professor Bryan Spears of UKCEH, one of the lead authors of the Our Phosphorus Future report, says: “Many countries are highly dependent on imported phosphorus fertiliser for food production, leaving them exposed to fertiliser price fluctuations. More efficient use of phosphorus in agriculture and increased recycling, for example from wastewater, can increase resilience in the food system while reducing pollution of lakes and rivers that are biodiversity hotspots and important for drinking water supply.”
The report’s authors estimate adopting the ’50, 50, 50′ goal would create a food system that would provide enough phosphorus to sustain over four times the current global population, save farmers nearly US $20 billion in annual phosphorus fertiliser costs and avoid a projected yearly clean-up bill of over US $300 billion to remove phosphorus from polluted water courses.
Phosphorus pollution in lakes, rivers, and coasts accelerates the growth of algal blooms which produce toxins that are harmful to animals and humans who come into contact with or consume contaminated water. The cost of responding to water-based phosphorus pollution in the UK alone is estimated at £170 million per year.
The experts hope their report will raise awareness of the need for sustainable phosphorus management informing collaborations between scientists, governments, farmers and industries.
Dr Will Brownlie, a University of Edinburgh freshwater scientist who coordinated the Our Phosphorus Future report, says: “So far, there has been a lack of intergovernmental action. By providing the scientific evidence that shows threats posed by unsustainable use of phosphorus, as well as putting forward solutions, we hope our report will catalyse change towards sustainable management of this essential nutrient.”
Isabelle Vanderbeck of the United Nations Environment Programme, a co-author of the report, adds: “UNEP recognises the complexity of the nutrient challenge and the potential for economic benefits of improving phosphorus sustainability. Governments should take decisive actions to avoid significant environmental and societal harm due to phosphorus mismanagement.”
- Five countries control 85 per cent of the world’s phosphate rock reserves: Morocco (70%), China (5%), Egypt (4%) Algeria (3%), and Syria (3%). *In terms of the annual supply of phosphate rock, just four countries were responsible for 72 per cent of global production in 2021: China (39%), Morocco (17%), the US (10%), and Russia (6%) (Jasinski et al, 2022).
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Global phosphorus crisis
- Potash prices have more than trebled and keep climbing
Next to nitrogen and phosphorus ... The biggest hike in the global price of potash recorded to date occurred between 2008 and 2009 when the US mortgage banking crisis spread to the rest of ...
- Phosphorus Debuting New Mobile xIoT Security Lab at Black Hat USA to Demonstrate Live Remediation of High-Risk Devices
NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 26, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Phosphorus Cybersecurity™, the leading provider of advanced and full-scope security for the extended Internet of Things (xIoT), is debuting the ...
- Phosphorus And Derivatives Market Report: Industry Size, Market Status, Influencing Factors, Competition, SWOT Analysis, Outlook & 2029 Forecasts
Global Phosphorus And Derivatives Market Overview ... industry showed some resilience in the supply chain during the crisis, meaning that it was only little impacted. Fertilizer usage ...
- Peecyclers help farmers with No.1
When Kate Lucy saw a poster in town inviting people to learn about something known as peecycling, she was mystified.
- Termite Control Market Size 2022-2028, Industry Trends, Growth Prospect | FMC Corporation , United Phosphorus Ltd , Nufarm Limited
It discusses the COVID-19 crisis’ effects on several economic ... Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd. , FMC Corporation , United Phosphorus Ltd , Nufarm Limited , Nippon Soda Co. Ltd , Rentokil ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Global phosphorus crisis
Go deeper with Bing News on:
- How year-round crops could reduce farm pollution in the Mississippi River
The Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota is developing 16 new crops to keep landscapes covered, and water cleaner.
- Develop realistic fertilizer strategy for 2023
We backed off P and K fertilizer for the 2022 crop. Fertilizer prices are still high. What is a feasible strategy as we begin preparing for 2023 crops? The Profit Planners panelists include David ...
- Reducing use of phosphorus: Researchers work to make element more sustainable
Scientists at Clemson University have joined a national research effort focused on developing solutions that will make the use of phosphorus — a finite element essential to food production — ...
- The Best Fertilizers for Apple Trees of 2022
The best fertilizers for apple trees can provide essential nutrients, encourage blossom production, or boost root development. See our list of top picks.
- Pennsylvania’s new lawn-fertilizing rules, trees in heat, and bugs on the milkweeds: This Weekend in the Garden
This weekend's yard jobs include assessing how Pennsylvania's new lawn-fertilizing rules affect your lawn-care game plan, helping trees cope with summer heat, and ignoring two bugs you might be seeing ...