Launch of UKRI- GCRF International Nitrogen Hub

A major international research programme has been announced on the 22nd of January to help tackle the problem of nitrogen pollution and overcome the challenges it poses to the environment, food security, human health and economic stability in South East Asia.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology will lead the South Asian Nitrogen Hub, in partnership with around 50 organisations from across the UK and South Asia. Over the next five years, the hub will be funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under its Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) as well as from the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) and a number of other  UK and international partners.

Public debate about planetary health tends to focus on carbon. But nitrogen is also critically important as it is connected to air pollution, biodiversity loss, the pollution of rivers and seas, ozone depletion, health, economy and livelihoods.  Nitrogen pollution is caused, for example, byemissions from chemical fertilizers, livestock manure, and burning fossil fuels.

Nitrogen pollution presents significant barriers to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on: Zero Hunger, Climate Action, Good Health & Well-being, Clean Water & Sanitation, Affordable & Clean Energy, Life Below Water, Life on Land, No Poverty, Responsible Consumption & Production, and Decent Work & Economic Growth. 

The UKRI GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub will study the impacts of the different forms of pollution to form a coherent picture of the nitrogen cycle and will work towards tackling these 9 Sustainable Development Goals.   In particular, it will look at nitrogen in agriculture in eight countries – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives.  The Hub will support progress towards meeting SDGs, foster the development of a cleaner, circular economy for nitrogen and demonstrate the economic benefits of tackling nitrogen pollution. 

Professor Mark Sutton of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, an international nitrogen expert who will head up the UKRI GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub, says: “As a global society, we struggle with the intractable problems of air pollution, climate change and declining water quality, biodiversity and health. However, better nitrogen management will provide solutions to all of them and offers a triple win – for the economy, health and environment. Joining up across the nitrogen cycle will catalyse change for a cleaner, healthier and more climate-resilient world. Professor Mark Sutton announced the launch of the GCFR Nitrogen Hub at the APZNBF event at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier today (22nd January). 

Professor Tapan Adhya, Hub Co-Director for Science, who is from the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar, India, one of the partners in the South Asian Nitrogen Hub, says: “High doses of fertilizer input of nitrogen to agriculture combined with low nitrogen-use efficiency mean that research on nitrogen pollution must be a priority for South Asia. This is emphasised by the scale of nitrogen subsidies across South Asia at around 10 billion dollars per year. Better nitrogen management will have huge economic and environmental benefits. ” 

The Hub is part of one of the 12 GCRF hubs being announced by UKRI to address severe challenges in sustainable development. Between them, the interdisciplinary hubs will work across 85 countries and in cooperation with governments, international agencies and NGOS from developing nations and around the world. To find out more about the other UKRI GCRF Hubs and how they will help develop innovative and sustainable solutions to international development, click here.  


The launch of the Global Research Hubs was also announced on today by UKRI, who described the initiative as a 'an ambitious new approach to tackle some of the world's most pressing challenges.' Read the full article here. 

News of the GCRF South Asia Nitrogen Hub launch was also announced today by CEH, the leading partner in the £20 million initiative to help tackle nitrogen pollution. To keep up to date with the latest news and progress of the GCRF South Asia Nitrogen Hub, you can follow it on Twitter.