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Chairmanship of the Task Force on Nitrogen - AQ0908

Over the last few years there has been increasing recognition of the wide range of environmental problems affected by excess fixed nitrogen. The concerns include transboundary air pollution leading to acidification, eutrophication and ground level ozone, with impacts on natural habitats, croplands, forests as well as on human health. Together, with these there is a close interaction with particulate matter in the atmosphere, with its impacts on human health and atmospheric visibility. Coupled with these are the impacts of excess nitrogen on greenhouse gas balance, for example by nitrous oxide emissions or by altering the terrestrial carbon sink, as well as through the radiative effects of nitrogen containing aerosol. At the same time impacts on nitrates and water quality, both for aquatic systems and for eventual impacts in coastal and marine ecosystems also need to be considered. It can be seen that excess nitrogen acts as a common thread linking the problems of air and water quality, biodiversity and greenhous gas balance.

By contrast to the closely inter-linked nature of the nitrogen cycle and its environmental impacts, current policies to deal with excess nitrogen are rather fragmented, often with little interconnection. The existing separation in Europe into specialist science and policy areas has encouraged this. While this has had the advantage of being able to develop a sound scientific basis for individual issues, this background and the complexity of the nitrogen cycle, means that it is a major challenge to develop a more wholistic approach to managing excess nitrogen in the environment.

Substantial progress has, however, been made in recent years. In particular, under the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), efforts have allowed the development of a multi-pollutant multi-effect approach that links several of the nitrogen-related issues (i.e. acidification, eutrophication, ground level ozone, with developents ongoing on particulate matter). In each of these, nitrogen plays a key role, e.g. with NOx emissions being a key driver of increased ozone concentrations and both NH3 and NOx forming particles in the atmosphere. The LRTAP Convention therefore has substantial experience that can provide a basis for a more integtated approach. These need to be brought together with the experience from managing nitrogen in aquatic and coastal/marine systems (e.g. in relation to nitrates directive, water framework directive, Oslo and Paris Commission), as well as linked to better management of nitrogen linked to greenhouse gas budgets (relevant for the Framework Convention Climate Change).

The issues have been brought into focus by review activities under the LRTAP Convention during 2007, in particular the Saltsjobaden 3 Workshop (, where the question was asked: "Could the Convention develop and host an integrated approach to nitrogen?" It was recognized that no single Convention covers all N-related issues, and agreed that the CLRTAP would be ready to take the lead in developing an integrated approach, including establishing the relevant links with other international conventions.

To take this forward, the UK together with the Netherlands committed to lead a new activity in the Convention. A joint proposal from the UK and the Netherlands, to establish a new Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen (TFRN), which would report to the Working Group on Strategies and Review (WGSR), was presented during 2007. This proposal has been supported successively by the EMEP Steering Body, the Working Group on Effects (WGE) and the WGSR. The proposal now awaits confirmation from the Executive Body (EB) of the Convention in December 2007, regarding the exact functioning of the group within the Convetion. The proposed chairs of the new Task Force are Dr. Mark Sutton (UK) and Prof. Oene Oenema (NL).

The present project supports the activities of Dr Sutton to lead the Task Force (2008-2010), together with the necessary TF Office, which would be based at CEH Edinburgh working closely with Dr Sutton. The activities include: networking and meetings to establish the Task Force, development of the TF Work Plan, arrangement of annual TF Meetings, liaison with other Task Forces and Expert Groups under the CLRTAP, reporting to WGSR, liaison with other the national and international representatives to the Task Force (including liaison with other conventions), preparation of minutes and relevant papers covering the work of the Task Force. The eventual aim is to identify ways in which current and future nitrogen-related policies/protocols can be better streamlined and integrated.

This aim requires a substantial effort, and, in particular, the TF Office will play a key role in networking to develop the links between the currently separated N policy areas, and reporting these to the Task Force. The TF Office will be supported on part-time basis by this project, complementing linked work of the person appointed (funded by CEH and external sources) in coordinating the European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI), which will be reported to and inform the work of the Task Force.
1. To work with the Defra policy officers, the Dutch co-chair, Ministry counterparts in the Netherlands and the Convention Secretariat to establish the Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen, including details of the terms of reference by May 2007.

2. To coordinate development the Work Plan of the Task Force, together with the co-chair, conducting this in discussion with the Defra and Dutch nominated officers, and update this annually as required by the Working Group on Strategies and Review.

3. To liaise with key stakeholders of the Task Force, including representatives of national parties and of key relevant international conventions, including fostering of inter-convention communication (especially in relation to the links between air policies with water, biodiversity and climate change).

4. To prepare for meetings of the Task Force in cooperation with the co-chair, including establishment of the agenda, arranging announcements and invitations and agreeing of venues with local hosts.

5. To conduct the Task Force meetings, including recording of written products and establishment of the minutes in cooperation with the Convention Secretariat and provision of information through the internet.

6. To report, in cooperation with the co-chair, the findings of the Task Force to the Working Group on Strategies and Review (WGSR).

7. To report the findings to other bodies both in the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution, and with the other international bodies and conventions, including the preparation of written products.

Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : No final report   (55k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2012

Cost: £340,790
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Air Pollution              
Environmental Protection              
Fields of Study
Air Quality