Nitrous oxide is the most significant ozone-depleting substance emission and the third most important greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere. Recently Oene Oenema, Carolien Kroeze, Jan Peter Lesschen, Lin Ma and Gerard Velthof (Alterra and Wageningen University) contributed to a United Nations Environment Programme synthesis report that addresses the urgency of drawing down N2O emissions. But there is also some good news.
Nitrous oxide is a gas that is both a potent pollutant in respect to damaging the ozone layer and one that is contributing to climate change. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of environmental degradation and the multiple, cost effective pathways to an answer. While nitrous oxide is naturally present in the Earth’s atmosphere in trace amounts, human activities have been increasing its concentrations since the industrial revolution. A synthesis report, written by more than 45 scientists and experts from more than 35 organizations, concludes that emissions of nitrous oxide are now the most relevant with respect to stratospheric ozone depletion and the third most important gas in terms of climate change. The report shows that if current trends in nitrous oxide emissions are allowed to continue, then it is very possible that ozone layer depletion will continue even with other efforts being implemented.
But the report also comes with some good news – with the right determination and commitment to act, it is possible to bring down nitrous oxide emissions. Several readily available technologies and measures exist today for reducing nitrous oxide emissions from the different economic sectors concerned. Reducing nitrous oxide emissions also comes with other added benefits – nitrous oxide emissions are connected to many different economic sectors including agriculture, chemical manufacturing, electricity production, waste management, transportation and fish production. Hence, gains will include increased crop and livestock productivity, poverty alleviation, improved human health and reduced environmental degradation – all of which are in keeping with the transition towards an inclusive green economy.
Despite increasing penetration of renewable energies, improvements in energy efficiency, investments in forests and other ecosystems and legions of voluntary actions such as those to reduce black carbon, greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb putting the world and its people at increasing risk of dangerous climate change. In order to avert this, greater ambition is needed by nations across a suite of challenges. Recognizing the impact of nitrous oxide on both the climate and the ozone layer and taking steps to address this pollutant offers another promising pathway to keep humanity.