Nitrous oxide (N2O) - commonly known as laughing gas - has 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2) and is responsible for seven per cent of harmful greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Without action on nitrogen, scientists warn that achieving the global ambition of net zero by 2050 will be impossible.

A new international initiative launched today - #Nitrogen4NetZero - sets out to raise awareness of the importance of nitrogen for climate action. It will help governments take action on nitrogen in the run up to COP26 and meet ambitious net zero goals.

Reactive nitrogen is produced in various forms, for example, from car engine exhausts, animal and plant waste, and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. These are having adverse impacts on the climate, environment, economy and health. Sustainable nitrogen management will support climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as provide quantifiable benefits for air quality, freshwater water quality, coastal zones and stratospheric ozone depletion. 

The #Nitrogen4NetZero initiative is being led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) as part of the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS) hosted on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The initiative is being launched in partnership with the British High Commission in Colombo and the Government of Sri Lanka in a virtual event to be addressed today (Tuesday, April 27) by Professor Paul Monks, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), government ministers from South Asia and a statement from H.E. the President of Sri Lanka.

Professor Mark Sutton of UKCEH who leads the GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub, which is coordinating the activity, said: “Achieving net zero is not just about carbon. If we ignore nitrogen, we’ll never get there. Nitrogen pollution comes in many forms and we must tackle all of them. To be most effective in reducing these emissions, we need a system-wide change to the way we manage the global nitrogen cycle. The #Nitrogen4NetZero initiative is bringing science and South Asian governments together to mobilise action on nitrogen for climate mitigation.”

The #Nitrogen4NetZero initiative builds on the 2019 UN Environment Assembly resolution (UNEP/EA.4/Res.14) championed by India, and the subsequent Colombo Declaration, championed by Sri Lanka, highlighting how action on nitrogen offers multiple win-wins for climate, environment, health and economy.

The Nitrogen for Climate and Green Recovery event is running from 27-29 April 2021 and will share science and policy perspectives, and mobilize action on nitrogen and climate in the run-up to the Glasgow Climate conference in November 2021 (COP26). The launch event will include statements from ministers and other representatives from across South Asia (including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

A series of events are planned for June and November 2021 to highlight the connection between nitrogen and climate change, bringing together science and policy on the pathway to COP26.

For further information about #Nitrogen4NetZero visit


Notes to editors

For event details and registration:
#Nitrogen4NetZero launch video:

The Nitrogen for Climate and Green Recovery virtual event is supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH), the GEF/UNEP International Nitrogen Management System (INMS), and the South Asian Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP).

Nitrogen has many forms with multiple impacts on the environment:

  • Gases such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are key components of particulate matter, thereby contributing to poor air quality which can aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, leading to premature deaths.
  • Nitrate from chemical fertilisers, manure and industry pollutes rivers, seas and soils posing a health risk for humans, fish, coral and plant life.
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a greenhouse gas that also depletes the ozone layer and is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
  • Measures focused on improving management across the entire nitrogen cycle offer multiple benefits climate mitigation and adaption, pollution reduction and economy.

How does #Nitrogen4NetZero relate to COP26 Campaigns and Science Themes?
#Nitrogen4NetZero is a cross cutting initiative relevant for all five of the major COP26 campaigns:

  • Adaptation and Resilience.  Addressing nitrogen helps avoid excess crop fertilization under climate change, which would otherwise exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions,
  • Nature. Nitrogen pollution threatens biodiversity with impacts on forests, wetlands, lakes and coral reefs. Sustainable nitrogen management must be a precondition for success in this UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. 
  • Energy Transition. Bioenergy crops require fertilizer or biological nitrogen fixation, so nitrogen management is essential to avoid worsening climate threats.  Ammonia (NH3) is a key hydrogen carrier as a future fuel in an emerging nitrogen economy.
  • Clean Road Transport. A shift to electric vehicles can substantially reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, while large combustion plants offer opportunities to develop NOx recovery technology.
  • Finance. The Colombo Declaration goal to ‘halve nitrogen waste’ offers a resource saving worth $100 billion annually, mobilizing NitroFinance for the circular economy. 

About the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is a centre for excellence in environmental science across water, land and air. Our 500 scientists work to understand the environment, how it sustains life and the human impact on it – so that together, people and nature can prosper.
We have a long history of investigating, monitoring and modelling environmental change, and our science makes a positive difference in the world. The issues our science addresses include: air pollution, biodiversity, biosecurity, chemical risks, extreme weather events, droughts, floods, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, soil health, sustainable agriculture, sustainable ecosystems, sustainable macronutrient use, and water resources management. The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is a strategic delivery partner for the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. / Twitter: @UK_CEH / LinkedIn: UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

About the Global Challenges Research Fund
The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. It is part of the UK’s official development assistance (ODA) and is managed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The fund addresses the United Nations sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.

For further information and media enquiries please contact:
Simon Williams, UKCEH media relations officer, / 07920 295384