INI Europe - Concepts and Visions

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I Objective and key focal areas

II Contribution to the global objectives of INI

III Modes of operation


I Objective and key focal areas

INI-Europe facilitates enhanced cooperation and integration among European researchers, policy makers and practitioners to cover environmental issues related to reactive nitrogen (Nr). INI-Europe’s task includes to inventory, review and synthesize work from existing related activities, like those of EUROSTAT and OECD, the TFRN (Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen) and its expert panels, and the ongoing work in research projects under EU’s 7th Framework programme or similar activities.

Addressing several key focal areas, we summarize the aim, the topics to investigate, the rationale behind and the approach that may be taken. Further, we identify responsibilities by adding the names of one responsible steering committee members.

1. Regional N budgets and N pathways/emissions

Aim: Create regional nitrogen budgets and assess/quantify the respective flows (distinguishing farm, soil, land and total N budgets)

Rationale: Extending from the European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA), budgets on different scales intend to identify intervention points to regulate and abate N flows.

Approach: liaise with EPNB, the Expert Panel on Nitrogen Budgets operating under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, and with related activities of Eurostat and OECD. INI-Europe will support individual country activities, e.g. those currently developed by Denmark.

Key contact in INI-Europe: Wilfried Winiwarter

2. N compounds in air and water and their relation to effects on ecosystems and human health

Aim: Quantify and prioritize risks and risk treatment associated with Nr, now and in a future situation

Rationale: These areas are the key policy drivers in Europe

Approach: ENA managed to tackle this issue doing cost-benefit analyses. This approach has been updated and again published. Still considerable further activity is needed to appropriately value the risks in ecosystems as well as human health. Using a numeraire of monetary terms may be considered less than ideal, possibly applying relative risks may be a way to proceed.

Key contact in INI-Europe: Hans van Grinsven

3. Effects of N inputs on terrestrial ecosystems, in interaction with air quality and climate change

Aim: Assess effects of N inputs, in interaction with air quality and climate change, on terrestrial ecosystems in terms of:

  • Productivity and carbon sequestration
  • Biodiversity (plant species diversity)

Rationale: The impact of N inputs on C sequestration is highly relevant but should be evaluated in view of other drivers (CO2, O3, climate and other nutrients including P). Furthermore, the interaction of climate change with N inputs on biodiversity should gain more attention.

Approach: This can be related to Eclaire work

Key contact in INI-Europe: Wim de Vries, Kevin Hicks

4. N inputs and effects on aquatic/marine ecosystems

Aim: Assess effects of N inputs, in interaction with P and Si inputs, on aquatic and marine ecosystems in terms of:

  • Productivity and carbon sequestration
  • Eutrophication

Rationale: The ENA focus was on N as such, but interaction with other drivers, i.e. phosphorus, P, and silica, Si, (as the Indicator for Coastal Eutrophication Potential) should get more attention in view of the eutrophication of European surface waters. The ENA refers in its water quality chapter to global NEWS that makes such predictions. However, global NEWS is a low spatial resolution global scale model in which furthermore P from land is built in by a steady state approach. Updating NEWS by including dynamic P processes using higher resolution input data for Europe and comparing with other models, such as GREEN is relevant here.

Approach: Try to link this work to upcoming Horizon 2020 call. An aspect that could be considered relevant is the evaluation of impacts of bioenergy crops on eutrophication in view of elevated N and P use (this also holds for the other topics like NH3 emissions etc., but the relation to eutrophication seems most prevalent).

Key contact in INI-Europe: Maren Voss / Bruna Grizzetti

5. Link N and P use with food productivity and assess regional (country and continental) transfer of N and P to both food productivity and adverse environmental impacts

Aim: Assess the N (and P use) efficiencies in food chains in European countries as a basis for improving the NUE and PUE

Rationale: understanding nutrient flows in its chain is another way to identify intervention points, and to establish resource efficiency.

Approach: N footprint calculator (Jim Galloway/Albert Bleeker) and supply chain analysis at SEI

Key contact in INI-Europe: Kevin Hicks / Wim de Vries

6. Assess regional boundaries for N and P use in view of food production and adverse environmental impacts

Aim: Assess boundaries for N and P use at country level and even lower levels (e.g. NUTS2 level) for possible governance use accounting for the trade-off between the need of nutrient use for food security versus the harmful effects of over application. 

Rationale: Human interference with the N cycle is identified as a system that may already have exceeded its planetary boundary, was based on the production of new reactive N. However, this value was simply set at 25% of its current value and requires update. Furthermore, unlike climate change and biodiversity loss which are also assumed to be exceeded, a global threshold for N is absent with the exception of N2O, thus challenging a planetary boundary and requiring regional boundaries.

Approach: Support of work related to (i) identification of multiple threat N indicators and setting critical limits for them, (ii) back calculating critical N losses from critical limits for N indicators, while accounting for the spatial variability of indicators and their exceedance and (iii) back calculating critical N fixation rates from critical N losses, with an aim to closing nutrient cycles.

Key contact in INI-Europe: Wim de Vries

7. Improving N management across Europe and current best practice in Europe

Aim: Devise practicable implementations of NUE efficiency improvement for the diversity of European situations

Rationale: Close science-policy gap by coming up with practically useful proposals

Approach: Devise recommendations based on individual studies and activities for the diversity of European situations (from excess nutrients to deficiencies, from water scarcity to abundance, from moderate temperature ranges to high/low extremes).

Key contact in INI-Europe: Wilfried Winiwarter


II Contribution to the global objectives of INI

The contributions of the mentioned priority issue to the wider global objectives of INI are as follows:

  1. The impact of N interaction with other drivers (CO2, O3, climate and other nutrients including P) on productivity and soil respiration and thereby on carbon sequestration is a highly relevant issue at global scale (how stable is the terrestrial C sink in view of changes). The same holds for linkage N, climate change and other drivers to biodiversity impacts (see the key focal area 3, above).


  2. The linkage of N and P with Si is already dealt with at global scale, but inclusion of P dynamics is an issue that should be improved (see key focal area 4).
  3. The assessment of regional and planetary (an aggregation of regional) boundaries for N and P use, linked to both food productivity and adverse environmental impacts, is an issue with large policy attention at global level (see key focal area 6).


III Modes of operation

1. Awareness raising and communication – use a network of ‘Nitrogen Ambassadors’

Ideas to be explored for a medium-term communication strategy:

  • Discussion forum linked to the web site
  • INI twitter feed
  • News dissemination to INI mailing list
  • INI community to develop policy briefs on science and best practice
  • INI-Europe SC as messengers to bring the message of INI to different events (scientific/policy oriented) in Europe

Highlight best practice in tackling these issues. Develop key policy focal areas, building on the recommendations of ENA and more recently ONW (Our Nutrient World) – especially those where there is a need for new scientific evidence or technical inputs for novel solutions. The science-policy-practice interface established in Europe, while still being considered immature and not adequately effective, nevertheless may serve as a showcase to other world regions.

2. Mechanisms to motivate European nitrogen scientists and others to contribute

  1. Involve the Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen and the Expert Panel on Nitrogen Budgets (EPNB) for the country N assessments
  2. Consider dedicated INI-Europe sessions and meetings towards funded project activities
  3. For other topics
  • Write an ESF proposal (or similar) for a conference on a special N topic, with the ultimate aim to come up with a research proposal.
  • Then follow up with writing an ESF - Research Networking Programme, which allows to fund costs for Exchange visits, Laboratory Courses, Summer-schools, Conferences, Steering committee meetings and a Secretariat.
  • This would allow then to write research proposals as a group as soon as a possibility is there.

Use a discussion forum to discuss key ideas and their solutions. Bring key N people together to work on policy briefs / reviews / proposals.

3. Assisting Policy Development

Using policy briefs and multi-stakeholder meetings to engage policy makers and practitioners in the development of approaches to tackle nitrogen issues


4. Monitoring and Evaluation

INI-Europe in itself is organized as a project, with internal mechanisms to measure progress albeit at a simplified form. For that reason a monitoring process will be set up that allows to establish and monitor self-identified targets like

  • Evaluate the secrets of success in the previous stages of INI-Europe
  • Determine what changes we would like to see in medium and long term and what actions we plan to bring about these changes.
  • Identify key target institutions and stakeholders and monitor if we are able to affect their behaviour and actions in line with our plans.



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