Global Nitrogen Footprint Mapped for the First Time: Five Countries Responsible for Almost Half of Emissions

First Posted: Jan 26, 2016 08:54 AM EST

The global footprint of nitrogen has been mapped for the very first time. Encompassing 188 countries, the new map reveals that the United States, China, India and Brazil are responsible for 46 percent of the world's nitrogen emissions.

In this latest study, the researchers grouped nitrogen footprint into top-ranking bilateral trade relationships. This revealed a trend for increased nitrogen production, and researchers found developed nations were largely responsible for emissions abroad for their own consumption.

The scientists also discovered that developing countries embodied large amounts of nitrogen emissions from their exports of food, textiles and clothing.

"High-income nations are responsible for more than 10 times the emissions of the poorest nations," said Arunima Malik, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This reflects greater consumption of animal products, highly processed foods and energy-intensive goods and services."

The vast bulk of emission came from industries such as agriculture, transport and energy generation. Emissions from consumers-end use were mostly from sewage.

"Policies are needed to integrate nitrogen supply-chains globally in order to reduce pollution," said Manfred Lenzen, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We know nitrogen emissions are increasing-just as carbon emissions are increasing as populations expand. We are now analyzing the trends, such as increased affluence and consumption, and looking at the various industries responsible for nitrogen pollution."

The findings reveal a bit more about the sources of nitrogen in the world, which will be important when it comes to developing policies in order to reduce nitrogen pollution in the future.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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