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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 82 - Thursday, 10 December 2009
Global Partnership on Nutrient Management Taking Shape
By David Osborn, Coordinator, Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA)
Nutrients, such as nitrogen, are a key part of delivering food security and sustainable development. But excess use and inefficient practices lead to nutrient over-enrichment, causing soil acidification, groundwater pollution, and the undermining of marine and coastal ecosystems and the services and livelihoods they support. A recent article in Nature suggests that the additional amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus activated by humans are now so large that they significantly perturb the global cycles of these two important elements.

Our challenge is to optimize the use of nutrients to realize food security while minimizing negative impacts on the environment and human health. The complexity of nutrient-related issues requires special attention in the political domain: policy integration that deals with air, water, soil, agriculture and commerce is the key. It will also require sound and efficient means for exchange of information between the scientific community and policy makers from local to national and international scales.

The Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM), a partnership of scientists, policy makers, private sector, NGOs and international organizations, was formed to address the growing problem of nutrient over-enrichment. The partnership will provide a web-based platform, presenting information on major emission sources and impacts, cross-media transfer of nutrients, environmental costs of over-enrichment, and an identification and analysis of impacts in coastal areas and marine ecosystems.  

The Partnership was launched formally by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on 6 May 2009, at the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development, in collaboration with the Governments of the United States and the Netherlands. Other key partners are the Governments of Italy and Germany, the European Union, the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  

The first partnership meeting was held on 22-23 October 2009, in The Hague, the Netherlands, where developed and developing country participants discussed the landscape of nutrient issues, practices and research across the world’s regions; agreed on a draft Action Plan for the Partnership: and identified a number of initiatives for the Partnership to foster in the short term. A steering committee was established to give structure and guidance, and opportunities identified for regional partnership meetings on the way to a full meeting of partners in New Delhi, India, in December 2010. The meeting also discussed how to share information and best practices through the newly designed web-based platform.

Facilitating implementation partnerships between and within countries will be a key focus. Using the web-based information provided by the GPNM, such partnerships involving stakeholders from different countries and disciplines will be able to identify the necessary research, policies, partners, tools and training to make informed, on-the-ground interventions. In turn, information, approaches and lessons learned from these interventions would be made available to all partners for future use.

The challenge will be to move from establishing a web-based platform as an effective information tool – the immediate focus of activity – to using the Partnership to broker and foster concrete interventions and capacity building, including strengthened assessment.

The identification by partners of a number of opportunities augurs well, as does the sense, fostered by the meeting, of an emerging ‘community of nutrient stakeholders.’ Interventions and activity will need to be complementary and focused given the role of key agencies and organizations in the nutrient field and the multiplicity of nutrient related issues.

The GPNM will be a key initiative to help implement the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), a non-binding multi-lateral environmental agreement addressing the links between watersheds and coastal systems using an ecosystem management approach. The 2006 inter-governmental review of the GPA in Beijing prioritized action on nutrients in regard to the GPA’s marine and coastal focus of action.  UNEP GPA provides the Secretariat for the GPNM.

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