New initiative will reduce air pollution from agriculture


Ammonia emissions into the air is a major threat to human health, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Atmospheric ammonia is also a significant source of acidification and excess nutrient loading, causing loss of biodiversity in many of the most vulnerable ecosystems. This calls for stronger action to reduce emissions.

Ammonia or NH3 mainly comes from manure produced by livestock and from mineral nitrogen fertilizers. In 2012, the agricultural sector accounted for 88.4 per cent of the total ammonia emissions in the UNECE region (excluding Canada and the United States). It is therefore a major contributor to air pollution. The issue is not a new one — a 30 per cent decrease in ammonia emissions has already been achieved since 1990 — but more needs to be done.

On 11 December, Parties to the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution adopted a new “Ammonia Framework Code” to help countries reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture.

The UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach hopes that this will provide new impetus for emission reduction measures in the agricultural sector, and create a wider understanding of the benefits of reducing ammonia and nitrogen for human health and the environment. “Air Pollution is the number one health problem in our region and in the world today”, he noted, “All countries and all economic sectors must take their responsibilities to ensure better air quality.”

The new framework code, a revision of a first version adopted in 2001 under the Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol), provides guidance for countries to establish their own national codes. It includes good practices on:

  • Nitrogen management, taking account of the whole nitrogen cycle
  • Livestock feeding strategies and measures to reduce emissions from animal excretions
  • Low-emission techniques to store and to spread manure on fields
  • Low-emission animal housing systems
  • Measures to limit emissions from the use of mineral fertilizers.

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