Cost-benefit analysis of reactive nitrogen for Germany

Besides of direct benefits from applying nitrogen fertilizer, such as enhanced crop yields, excessive release of reactive nitrogen to the environment by human activities is associated with numerous impacts on ecosystems, climate and human health. Our cost-benefit analysis for Germany allows to quantify these effects, thereby providing a transparent and comprehensive assessment of positive and negative externalities related to the intentional and unintentional release of nitrogen. Despite of large uncertainties inherent to these estimates, our findings show that the benefits of reducing nitrogen pollution outweigh related costs and they highlight the need for an integrated mitigation strategy.

The use of reactive nitrogen in agricultural production is associated with a direct benefit in the form of an increased crop yield, but it is also accompanied by a number of indirect impacts, such as biodiversity loss, damage on human health and global warming. The unintentional release of nitrogen from combustion of fossil fuels also contributes to these indirect impacts. A transparent analysis of both direct and indirect costs and benefits has never been carried out for Germany and is a prerequisite for a comprehensive assessment of net welfare impacts caused by the release of nitrogen to the environment.