Science Inventory

A framework for nitrogen futures in the shared socioeconomic pathways


Kanter, D., W. Winiwarter, B. Bodirsky, L. Bouwman, E. Boyer, S. Buckle, J. Compton, T. Dalgaard, W. dr Vries, D. Leclere, A. Leip, C. Muller, A. Popp, N. Raghuram, S. Rao, M. Sutton, H. Tian, H. Westhoek, X. Zhang, AND M. Zurek. A framework for nitrogen futures in the shared socioeconomic pathways. Global Environmental Change. Elsevier B.V., Amsterdam, Netherlands, 61:102029, (2020).


Nitrogen pollution is one of the most important environmental issues facing humanity. Understanding the range of possible future trajectories of nitrogen production, consumption and loss is crucial for scientists and decision-makers. This study presents a suite of new nitrogen-focused narratives, including detailed nitrogen reduction measures, based on the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways framework, which links it to a number of other environmental analyses. These narratives are an essential input to the quantitative evaluation of the environmental and economic impacts of different nitrogen trends over the 21st century – an important step in understanding how to simultaneously achieve a number of environmental and development goals in the coming decades. This paper is a result of a 2018 meeting at New York University, as part of the International Nitrogen Management Systems effort Activity 2.4.


Humanity’s transformation of the nitrogen cycle has major consequences for ecosystems, climate and human health, making it one of the key environmental issues of our time. Understanding how trends could evolve over the course of the 21st century is crucial for scientists and decision-makers from local to global scales. Scenario analysis is the primary tool for doing so, and has been applied across all major environmental issues, including nitrogen pollution. However, to date most scenario efforts addressing nitrogen flows have either taken a narrow approach, focusing on a singular impact or sector, or have not been integrated within a broader scenario framework – a missed opportunity given the multiple environmental and socio-economic impacts that nitrogen pollution exacerbates. As part of a new international science-policy project on the nitrogen cycle, this study introduces a suite of new nitrogen-focused narratives based on the widely used Shared Socioeconomic Pathways framework that include all the major nitrogen-polluting sectors (agriculture, industry, transport and wastewater). These new narratives integrate the influence of climate and other environmental pollution control policies, while also incorporating explicit nitrogen-control measures. They therefore can be used as core inputs to a suite of models to evaluate the impact of different nitrogen production, consumption and loss trajectories, and thus advance understanding of how to address environmental impacts while simultaneously meeting key development goals. This effort is an important step in assessing how humanity can return to the planetary boundary of this essential element over the coming century.

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 03/01/2020
Record Last Revised: 04/03/2020
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 348577